Exactly one year after allegations of accepting bribes were first made against Kerala Finance Minister KM Mani, he has resigned.
But in the series of allegations levelled by bar scam whistleblower and hotelier Biju Ramesh, Mani was not the only one accused of taking bribes.
The first allegation against Mani was made on November 1, 2014 and in the last week of March 2015, Ramesh fired the next revelation that Excise Minister K Babu too taken bribes from the Bar Owners’ Association to ensure that the annual license fees of bars does not increase.
Ramesh had also produced audio and video clippings of conversations between bar owners that showed that they were talking about the money paid to Congress ministers Ramesh Chennithala, V S Sivakumar and K Babu.
Now after Mani’s resignation, Biju Ramesh has once again levelled the same allegation against the Excise Minister claiming that the Vigilance department was dragging its feet in the investigation against Babu.
Biju Ramesh said he personally handed over Rs 50 lakh to K Babu at the Kerala Secretariat and added that the Bar Association had collected Rs 20 lakh from each bar license holder to bribe the Excise Minister.
He had also urged for a probe into Rs 200 crore assets of the Minister.
“I had a good relationship with the excise minister; he used to come to my hotel we used to have discussions. But when he spoke against me in media, I decided to reveal the truth,” Biju Ramesh told The News Minute.
Babu however has reacted saying the allegations against him were false and investigations have revealed nothing to implicate him. “Biju Ramesh’s statement was recorded by a magistrate. He claimed first that he gave me Rs 50 lakh, later said it was given in two instalments. He could not identify my secretary to whom he claimed to have give the money,” Babu told media.
Following Ramesh's revelations in March, on April 1, the Kerala Congress Mani group [KC (M)] had asked the government to register a vigilance case against the three Congress ministers. KC (M) had warned the government against adopting double standards as Mani was already charged in bar scam.
By the first week of May, the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau Kochi unit was assigned to conduct the investigation into allegations against Babu.
Though Vigilance had reportedly taken the statement of Babu in June, there were no significant progress in the case as all the attention was focused on Mani.
By July 2015, the Vigilance department had planned to close the probe against Babu on the basis of the Quick Verification report, which had found no prima facie case against Babu, and Vigilance Director Vinson M Paul had accepted the claims of the report.
However, Ramesh has claimed that the vigilance department had refused to record his statement or even other evidence against Babu.
The question raised by the KC (M) over the differential treatment given to Mani and the others becomes relevant. There is speculation that Babu has been spared because he is a Congress Minister while Mani is a Minister from an allied party.
Meanwhile K Babu, who had earlier filed a defamation case against Ramesh, has told the media that he not bothered about Ramesh’s allegations.
However another resignation from the Ministry might not happen, as by the time the case reaches High Court, Kerala will witness the next Assembly elections.