A political controversy is brewing in Kerala, and Transport Minister Thomas Chandy stands at the eye of the storm. One of the richest legislators in the Assembly, Chandy stands accused of illegally acquiring land and expending government funds on a private resort he owns in Alappuzha district.
The allegations against Chandy are three-fold. Firstly, it has been alleged that six acres of land has been illegally levelled over and reclaimed near the Marthandam kayal (lake), in Alappuzha district for constructing the Lake Palace resort owned by the Minister. Another six acres of the Vembanad lake in Punnamada, which have been claimed by the resort, are also under a cloud of controversy
The Minister has also been accused of tarring a road using government funds to facilitate easy access to his resort. The Minister claimed that he had spent Rs 28.5 lakh of funds, received from the Harbour Engineering Department, on tarring the road after local residents submitted a petition to Congress leaders demanding it.
However, according to an Asianet News report, the newly tarred road only benefits eight families. An alternative road heading to the same destination would have benefitted 250 families if it had been tarred instead, the report revealed. The Minister is therefore alleged to have diverted public funds to benefit his own business interests, while neglecting public interest.
The allegations have raised outrage among the Opposition, and there have been many calls for the Transport Minister to resign in the past few days.
While the BJP Yuva Morcha has been conducting protests outside the Lake Palace Resort, UDF legislators walked out of the Assembly on Thursday, after the government refused to order a probe into the encroachment allegations against Chandy.
This is not the first time that a crisis involving one of its Ministers has befallen the CPI (M)-led LDF government since it took charge in 2016.
In the fifth month of the governmentâ€™s tenure, Industries and Sports Minister EP Jayarajan, a close comrade of Pinarayi Vijayan, was forced to resign over nepotism charges. The Ministerâ€™s appointment of his nephew, Sudheer Nambiar, to the post of Managing Director of the Kerala State Industrial Enterprises erupted into a major controversy that led to Jayarajanâ€™s resignation within a matter of days.
Just a few months later, AK Saseendran, veteran NCP leader and Chandyâ€™s predecessor in the Transport Ministry, fell prey to a â€˜honey trapâ€™ carried out by a newly-launched television news channel. While the channel was widely criticised for its actions, Saseendran resigned from his post quickly.
There had been rumblings of discontent when Chandy was appointed to the Transport Ministry after Saseendranâ€™s exit. These have now burst to the fore, with the allegations mounting against Chandy. However, the current Transport Ministry has refused to make a quick exit, as the two earlier Ministers had done, telling the media that he will resign only if the allegations against him are proved.
For their part, the government and the CPI (M) have backed Chandy. While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan gave Chandy a clean chit in the Assembly, CPI (M) state Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has called the allegations politically motivated. Within the CPI (M) only veteran leader VS Achuthanandan has demanded a detailed probe into the allegations against Chandy.
However, reports say that the allegations against Chandy have also given vent to discontent within the NCP, with some party workers, led by a handful of District Secretaries, contemplating switching allegiance to the Kerala Congress (S), another LDF constituent.