Thiruvananthapuram | The bar bribery row involving Finance Minister K M Mani found its echo in the state Assembly today on the first day of the Winter session with CPIM led LDF staging a walkout demanding his resignation even as the Kerala Congress (M) chief rejected the charges as baseless.
The House also witnessed protests on a few occasions when some LDF members moved towards the well of the House with a banner demanding Mani’s resignation during zero hour when CPIM Deputy leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan raised the matter through a notice for an adjournment motion. Balakrishnan charged the Congressled UDF government with protecting Mani by deliberately delaying the preliminary quick examination by Vigilance on the bribery charges made by a bar owner.
Challenging the government on the issue, Balakrishnan said he has a compact disc containing evidence to support the bar scam and he was ready to place it on the table of the House. The LDF wanted government to register an FIR and case against Mani under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act as enough evidence on the bribery has come out and remove him from the Ministry if he did not quit on his own, he said.
Rejecting the charges, Mani said LDF was raising the corruption charge on hearsay and it was absolutely baseless. Neither I nor my party have received any money from Bar owners and the charges are baseless, Mani said, adding, there was a conspiracy behind the allegation. Making it clear that there was no move on the part of the government to shield any persons, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the probe in the case was progressing as per Supreme Court guidelines and Vigilance manuals. The final preliminary probe report would be submitted in the High Court tomorrow,he said.
On Balakrishnan’s claim on compact disc, Chennithala said he has to give it to the probe team and they would examine it. Holding that the investigation was transparent, he said it was being examined by the High Court as the Vigilance department had already submitted an initial report in this regard. Chennithala also asserted that the government did not interfere in the probe by the Vigilance and AntiCorruption Bureau which, he said, was not a caged parrot. Dissatisfied with the government’s response to their demand and rejection of the adjournment motion, LDF members led by Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan trooped out.
Before staging the walkout, Achuthanandan said Mani had no moral right to continue as a minister in the wake of corruption charges. LDF members came to the House with placards and banners demanding Mani’s resignation and lodging an FIR against him.
Earlier speaking during the question hour, Minister for Excise K Babu made it clear that government would not reconsider its new liquor policy. However, he said concerns and apprehensions expressed by certain quarters, especially by the tourism sector on the outcome of the policy, would be addressed by the government. Justifying the policy, Babu said government took the decision after it was found that liquor consumption in the state was going up at an ‘alarming’ rate. Kerala is a model on several aspects to the country and in liquor policy also the state wants to set a model for others to follow, he said.
The bar bribery row was triggered after Kerala State Bar Hotel Owners Working President Biju Ramesh alleged that the Association had paid Rs one crore to Mani who, he charged, demanded Rs five crore for favourable decisions on reopening 418 bars closed since April last.
The new liquor policy of the UDF government envisages total prohibition in ten years time. The new policy allowed the functioning of only liquor bars attached to five star category hotels which virtually resulted in closing down of 700 odd liquor bars. The case related to the bar licence is now in court and some bars are functioning on the strength of a court order.
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