Until recently, Prashant Nair was one of the 35,541 engineering graduates languishing without a job in Kerala. His hunt ended last week when the state cabinet offered him a government job. Prashant received special consideration from the government: His father, KK Ramachandran, who passed away last month due to liver cirrhosis, was a Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA.
The cabinet also decided to help unburden the family from its debt and settle the loans availed by Ramachandran, who represented Chengannur constituency in Pathanamthitta district for 20 months, by sanctioning money from the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). Social activists pointed out that this was done in flagrant violation of norms.
According to the rules governing CMDRF, the money should be used only for providing relief to families of accident victims, those affected by natural calamities, or for the treatment of the poor who are grievously ill. According to the guidelines, only those below the poverty line are eligible for relief. KM Shajahan, a former aide of senior CPM leader VS Achuthanandan, accused Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan of treating the CMDRF like his party fund. Only last month Vijayan used Rs 8 lakh from the fund for a helicopter he hired to travel to and from the state capital to a conference of his party in Thrissur.
The CMDRF was also used to provide relief to the families of a CPM worker who was killed in an accident last year and Uzhavoor Vijayan, the head of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) (a CPM ally), who died in July. Both families were given Rs 25 lakh each. Uzhavoor, state NCP chief, was neither an elected representative nor an office holder in the government. These are just a few cases of favouritism and financial profligacy being indulged in by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government since it came to power in May 2016 with a promise to weed out corruption from all levels of government.
That promise was proved hollow when reports of back door appointments to relatives of party leaders in Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) under the industry department rocked the government within five months. Though the government quelled the controversy by seeking the resignation of the then industry minister EP Jayarajan, the practice of apportioning spoils of administration to the relatives of ministers and MLAs continued unabated.
Shajahan told Firstpost that the most senior leaders of the ruling front placed close family members in various public undertakings. The chief minister himself set the trend by appointing his sister-in-law’s son Naveen as a legal advisor of the Beverages Corporation and standing counsel of the Pollution Control Board.
Kerala health minister KK Shailaja and Fisheries Minister Mercykutty Amma also appointed their relatives in departments under them. Shajahan said this was the practice followed by the CPM whenever it came to power. “But this time they have crossed all limits. The Pinarayi Vijayan government is not only extending favours to the leaders but also hardcore criminals. Nine party functionaries who are serving a life term in connection with the murder of rebel leader TP Chandrasekharan are having a good time in jail," Shajahan alleged.
Kodi Suni, the main culprit in the case, was found even leading criminal gangs from Viyur Central Jail. Investigations revealed that he planned and executed a 3 kilogram gold robbery with the help of a mobile phone he was given in jail. Call records showed he made as many as 244 calls to the leader of the gang and 200 calls to the jeweller who bought the gold.
Chandrasekharan’s widow K Rema said two other convicted leaders of the party were spending most of their time outside jail. PK Kunhanandan, the main convict, was granted parole for 134 days and his fellow convict KC Ramachandran got three months’ parole in violation of norms. The two were also allowed rejuvenation treatment in ayurveda hospitals without any police security.
Rights activist DB Binu accused the CPM ministers and MLAs of pocketing public money any way they could. Binu told Firstpost they were using public money to lead lives of luxury. He alleged gross misuse of the provision for medical reimbursement by most ministers and MLAs. Replies to his queries under the RTI Act revealed that many made huge claims for the treatment they or their family members received at private hospitals. There have been complaints that the health minister even forged documents to claim Rs 3.9 lakh for the treatment of her husband at a private hospital.
The complaint made by BJP state secretary K Surendran in this regard is now under the scrutiny of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau. Shailaja also courted controversy by claiming reimbursement of Rs 28, 000 for spectacles she recently bought. However, the critics spared Shailaja after reports emerged about Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan purchasing spectacles worth Rs 50,000.
Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac kept the row in the headlines by claiming a reimbursement of Rs. 1.2 lakh for an ayurvedic treatment at a private hospital. The reports came after he presented the budget with a series of austerity measures to tide over the acute financial crisis faced by the state.
“The minister could have got free treatment at the government panchakarma hospital in Poojappura, Thiruvananthapuram. Though many people from outside the state come to Poojappura, the minister went all the way to Kottakkal in Malappuram district for the 14-day treatment,” said Shajahan, who wondered how the minister could preach austerity when he himself was indulging in avoidable expenditure.
Shajahan, who was expelled from the CPM in connection with the leak of party documents, said he did not expect this from Isaac as he is very eloquent on social justice and has been maintaining a clean image in public life. “The party has double standards. While the top leaders appeal to the ordinary workers to lead simple lives, they are indulging in excess. Leaders and family members are on a spree of accumulating wealth,” Shajahan alleged, pointing out the Rs 13 crore financial fraud case pending against party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son Binoy Vinodini Balakrishnan.
He said that the top leaders of the party, including the politburo, were trying to protect Binoy by washing the party’s hands off the deal. But they had a moral obligation to explain to poor party workers who consider the party above reproach as to how the son of a leader with no income other than what he gets from the party could deal in millions of rupees, Shajahan said. “The leaders and their family members are trying to take maximum advantage. They seem to believe that they cannot return to power after their term ends. If the leaders go on this way, it might spell the end for communist rule in the state,” said Shajahan.
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Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 18:10:10 IST