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Tainted Kerala NCP Min comes under HC fire
Efforts of NCP’s Kerala Transports Minister Thomas Chandy to retain his Cabinet berth seemingly hit a dead end on Tuesday with the High Court rejecting a petition he filed against an official report on the charge of encroachment against him by observing that he had challenged his own Government with it but uncertainty over his fate continued as his party and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan persisted in their alleged unwillingness to force him to resign.
However, developments late Tuesday night at State capital Thiruvananthapuram indicated that Chandy might resign from the Cabinet on Wednesday in the face of mounting pressure. Chandy is expected to meet Pinarayi — and State CPI(M) secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan — at around 8:00 AM Wednesday before a Cabinet meeting.
Chandy had earlier said there was no situation that warranted his resignation. “The court has not said I have committed land encroachment. What I understand is that the court’s observations were oral and these do not figure in its verdict. I will get a copy of it only tomorrow. Let me get it. A decision can be taken after that,” he said. Earlier in the day, the Chief Minister, under fire for his inaction from the Opposition, the ruling LDF led by the CPI(M) and the general public for allegedly going out of his way to protect Chandy, seemed to be buying time when he said, “An appropriate decision will be taken at the appropriate time. Let us study the court’s decision and get the NCP’s opinion.”
Even when the clamour for Chandy’s resignation intensified, the State NCP leadership’s inability to put pressure on him became obvious. State NCP president TP Peethambaran said, “We still don’t believe Chandy has committed any wrong… It is up to the central leadership to take the final decision (on whether Chandy should resign).”
The court, which rejected Chandy’s petition challenging a report of the Alappuzha District Collector who found a tourism company owned by him guilty of encroaching public land and lake, land-filling paddy fields and wetlands and misusing public funds, reportedly observed that the most appropriate step he could take was to resign from the Cabinet.
A division bench of the court, which harshly criticized Chandy for violating the collective responsibility expected from a Minister by refusing to take the Cabinet into confidence in the matter of the district collector’s report, asked him to come out of his “ivory tower” and face the law as an ordinary citizen.
Observing orally that it was strange for a Minister to move the court against his own Government, the division bench said Chandy should not hope to retain his Cabinet position with the help of the Judiciary. Chandy’s defences collapsed in the court with the Government admitting that it was improper for the Minister to approach the court with the petition.
Though the court gave Chandy the opportunity to withdraw the petition by saying that it was not legally maintainable and he could thus avoid an embarrassing judgement, his lawyer, Congress MP Vivek Tankha, said there was no situation that warranted withdrawal of the plea, suggesting that Chandy was planning to approach the Supreme Court.
Tankha, who embarrassed the Congress leadership in the State by appearing for Chandy whose resignation is being sought by it, said the court’s observations need not be seen as criticisms against Chandy but it was raising a legal question whether a Minister could challenge his own Government.
Observers felt that the NCP’s tactic could be to keep Chandy, the richest member of the LDF Cabinet, to keep as Minister till December when an inquiry against its only other MLA, AK Saseendran, who had resigned as minister in March following a sex scandal, concluded so that Chandy could be replaced with him – provided he gets a clean chit.
Agitations have been going on across Kerala for the past three months against Chandy who is facing the charge of encroaching public land and lake, illegally land-filling rice fields and wetlands and misusing public funds for constructions for developing his tourism facility in Alappuzha.
Chandy had approached the High Court challenging a report that Alappuzha District collector TV Anupama had submitted on this to the Government by confirming violation of laws and rules by the Minister. The Opposition parties alleged that Chandy was using his money, muscle and Governmental power to protect himself.
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