In the first ever no confidence motion moved against a Kochi Mayor over corruption charges, opposition front LDF which brought in the motion, failed to secure the necessary majority to oust the Mayor.
Soumini Jain, the second female Mayor of Kochi Corporation and leader of Congress, is left with one more year to complete her tenure. A total of 38 votes were required to pass the no confidence motion, but only 33 votes were cast in support of ousting the Mayor. Surprisingly, the UDF stayed away from the proceedings, despite having the numbers. Sources say that the UDF was worried that some of its members would vote against Soumini, though she was from the Congress.
The Corporation council that has a total strength of 74 members, is ruled by Congress led UDF with a majority of 38 members, while LDF has the backing of 34 members. The council also has two councillors from BJP.
Shouting ‘Azhimathi bharanam thulayate’, (let the rule of corruption fall), 33 Opposition members entered the council hall at around 2 pm on Thursday. The proceedings began at 2.30 pm headed by District Collector S Suhas.
While the 33 councillors of LDF cast votes supporting the no confidence motion moved by Opposition leader KJ Antony of CPI(M), two BJP councillors who talked in support of the motion in the discussion, refrained from casting votes. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) member and one of the councillors of UDF KM Hamsakunju did not attend the proceedings due to physical ailments.
One of the major allegations against Soumini Jain is regarding an apartment project started by the Corporation in 2017 under Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) at Thuruthy Colony in Mattancherry for the families living in a slum there. The allegation raised by the Opposition is that Soumini Jain returned the security deposit of Rs 1 crore made by the contractor without completing the project, that too without consulting the council.
“Security deposits should only be given after fully completing the project, while here only one floor of the apartment has been constructed and yet the Mayor gave back the deposit to the contractor. This was an important decision that must have been kept in the council for discussion but it was not,” said Opposition leader KJ Antony to the District Collector during the discussion held before voting.
Meanwhile Soumini Jain, who met media at the Mayor’s chamber after the voting was over, denied the allegation.
“The contractor gave a request that he wanted to withdraw after completing phase one. The standing committee for finance of the Corporation, which has equal number of LDF and UDF members in it, had discussed the issue of returning security deposit to contractor. No one had raised any opposition then,” she said.
‘No confidence in thier own councillors’
The no confidence motion moved by LDF was also significant with respect to the upcoming bypolls that will be held in Ernakulam assembly constituency. The present MP of Ernakulam Hibi Eden was the MLA of the assembly constituency and election for the vacant post will be held in the coming months.
To ensure that the no-confidence motion against Mayor Soumini Jain will not be passed, Ernakulam District Congress Committee (DCC) had served a whip to Congress councillors. Ernakulam DCC president TJ Vinod is the deputy mayor of the Corporation.
Opposition leaders alleged that those Congress councillors who were supportive of the no confidence motion were held in house arrest by the party.
“If they have confidence in their own members, why should they refrain from attending the council. They are very well aware that even some of their members are fed up with the corrupt and authoritative rule of the Mayor and that is why they have been kept in house arrest,” LDF councillor Advocate Sunila Selven told TNM.
‘Neglect to West Kochi’
Another allegation raised by the Opposition against the Mayor was the neglect of the West Kochi region. West Kochi comprises regions like Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Palluruthy and Edakochi, which is away from the central business district.
Shyamala S Prabhu of the BJP who has been a councillor for the past 30 years, said that this was the worst council in the past years. “Many projects which started in 2017 are yet to be completed. Mattacherry boat jetty has been lying in a neglected state, there are no moves to revive it. Earlier there used to be at least four council meetings per month, but there are just one or two now and the members are not even served minutes of the council meetings on time,” said Shyamala S Prabhu.
“Same is the case of absence of a slaughterhouse in West Kochi, that has a demand of about 6,000 kg meat per day. There is no check on the unscientific slaughtering that is happening in the region which is often a threat to the health of people,” said councillor Sunitha Ashraf.
The failure of Kochi Corporation to fully implement the service of Roll on /Roll off (RoRo) ferry vessel and the failure to complete the E-governance project of the local body were the other points raised against Mayor Soumini Jain. Despite being the largest municipal body in the state, Kochi Corporation does not have a functioning e-governance system.