In the wake of the bar bribery scam that has rocked Kerala for months now, Excise Minister K Babu on Saturday handed over his resignation to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on moral grounds. He said he is resigning even though there is no prima facie evidence against him.
Babu said that even when there is no prima facie evidence against him, a PIL was filed in court based on a CD of an interview with whistle blower Biju Ramesh on a TV channel. He further said that Biju Ramesh had till now not revealed the exact date when Rs 50 lakh was supposedly handed over to him as alleged.
"How can a liquor baron forget the day he handed over such a huge sum," Babu asked.
On December 15, the bar owners reportedly held a meeting at MLA Sivankutty's house at 7pm with Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and other CPI(M) leaders in which it was decided to conspire against Babu and drag his name into the bar scam to protect vested interests, Babu claimed.
He also challenged the CPI(M) to declare to the public that they will continue to enforce the bar closure in case they come to power.
Babu alleged that the CPI(M) and bar owners had conspired to drag his name into the bar bribery scam on the assurance that at least a few bars will be reopened if the Left comes to power.
Biju Ramesh has denied all these allegations.
The bar bribery scandal broke on October 31, 2014, the day the Kerala High Court ratified the state government’s new liquor policy restricting sale of alcohol in bars in Kerala. The High Court's verdict was given following a petition from the Bar Hotel Owners’ Association (KBHOA) challenging the government policy.
The new liquor policy came into effect on October 1, 2014, shutting down all bars except those in five-star hotels. The new policy was the fall-out of a tussle between CM Oommen Chandy and KPCC president V M Sudheeran over renewing the liquor licences of 418 bars identified as substandard.
Sudheeran was against the renewal of the licences as the first step towards total prohibition. Irked, Chandy summarily announced immediate closure of all bars except five-star ones to usher in total prohibition in a decade’s time.
That’s when Biju Ramesh, KBHOA working president and Chairman and MD of Rajadhani Group accused the then state Finance Minister KM Mani of seeking Rs 5 crores to renew the liquor licence of 418 ‘sub-standard’ bars. He alleged the minister was paid Rs 1 crore in two instalments.
Based on Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan’s complaint, the state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau of the state filed a case against Mani.
The Vigilance report cited enough oral, documentary and scientific evidence to charge-sheet Mani in the case, indicting Mani for reportedly accepting Rs 10 lakhs from hotelier Rajkumar Unni on April 2, 2014 at his official residence. Mani stoutly denied all allegations.
The VACB legal adviser however rejected the report and was reportedly backed by VACB chief Vinson M Paul and thereafter sought to close the case.
The vigilance court in Thiruvananthapuram refused to give VACB permission to close the case, also rapping the Vinson Paul for interfering in the report prepared by the investigating officer. The VACB moved the High Court asking the vigilance court’s order to be quashed. However the High Court ratified the lower court’s order for further probe against Mani.
Biju Ramesh had also accused excise minister K Babu of receiving Rs.50 lakhs from KBHA towards renewal of bar licenses.
The Vigilance court had allotted time till Jan 23 for the VACB to submit its report. The first report was submitted to to the Lok Ayukta, a copy of which was not given to the court. VACB had sought more time to study the report rousing the court’s ire.