Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday locked horns with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the state Assembly over the bar bribery case, as the government announced that it would examine if a preliminary probe was needed into allegations against Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala. The CM also said the Congress leader had approached the Governor seeking to halt the probe against him and listed the names of other opposition MLAs who are facing vigilance probe in the state.
The 2015 bar bribery scam surfaced after Biju Ramesh, who is a former office-bearer of the Kerala Bar Hotel Association (KBHA), raised allegations that bribes were paid to expedite the relicensing of more than 300 bars. The bars were closed by the former Oommen Chandy-led UDF government. Biju Ramesh had named KM Mani, the late leader of the Kerala Congress (M) who was the then Finance Minister, as a respondent in his complaint to an anti-corruption court in 2015.
"Vigilance had conducted a confidential probe into the allegation raised by bar owner Biju Ramesh that he had paid bribes to the then Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President, who is now the Opposition Leader, for not increasing the bar licence fees. The government is looking into granting nod for a preliminary probe into the matter," Pinarayi told the Assembly on Tuesday. His response was to a question by DK Murali of the CPI(M), seeking details of the probe against Chennithala in the bar scam.
Reacting to the allegations, Chennithala said the CM was attempting to tarnish the image of the opposition and they (Opposition members) were least bothered about any investigation.
"The Chief Minister said I had approached the Governor. That is right. The incident was probed for the last five years. It was proved that the claim was wrong. The matter is under the consideration of the court. It's completely baseless. I have not taken any bribe from anyone. This is a serious attempt to tarnish the image of the opposition. We are least bothered about any investigation," Chennithala said.
However, Pinarayi retorted, stating that the Opposition was "annoyed by the achievements" of the state since 2016.
People considered the current Opposition as a curse to this land, Pinarayi countered, adding that the whole state knew what happened during 2011-16 when the UDF was in power.
"The whole state knows that there was rampant corruption during that time. The Opposition received a tight slap from the people of the state after the 2020 local body elections. Please do not question the common sense of the people of the state. They evaluate based on their experience. Those who are drowning in corruption cases are pointing their fingers at us," Pinarayi said.
With PTI Inputs