Kochi | In some relief to state Finance Minister K M Mani, who is at the centre of a bar bribe row, the Kerala High court today rejected a plea for registration of an FIR against him. A Division Bench, comprising Acting Chief Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice A M Shaffique, while disposing of petitions by LDF convenor Vaikom Vishwam and CPI MLA V S Sunil Kumar, directed Vigilance Director to take independent decision in accordance with statutory provisions within one week of receipt of the preliminary report.
Advocate General K P Dandapani assured the court that preliminary inquiry report will be filed by Monday. The bench also asked the vigilance director not to place the report before the government. The director need not follow the guidelines of vigilance manual. But shall follow the statutory provisions contained in the CrPc, the bench held.
The petitioners had complained about non-registration of crime against Mani. Alleging that Vigilance’s quick verification against Mani, was a ‘farce’, the LDF convenor and CPI MLA had moved the court in separate PILs seeking to draw up an FIR and register crime against the minister. The LDF also sought setting up of a SIT to probe the case and wanted court to monitor the same.
The quick verification done by vigilance was a ‘farce’. Refusal to forward report within the prescribed time amounts to abdication of statutory duties, LDF convenor Vaikom Vishwam stated. The attempt of the government not to register crime on the allegations made by Kerala Bar Owners Association’s working president, Biju Ramesh, under the guise of preliminary inquiry, is ‘highly deplorable’, it was stated. The bench also declined the prayer to monitor investigation at this stage.
Earlier, on November 1, Opposition leader in the state assembly V S Achuthanandan filed a complaint to vigilance seeking a probe against Mani on the basis of disclosures by Biju Ramesh. The director ordered preliminary inquiry into the allegations and the report is yet to be filed. According to the petitioners, the report ought to have been filed within 14 days.
Only in extraordinary circumstances, the inquiry can be extended up to six weeks, they submitted. Vigilance DySP S Suresh Kumar had also assured the court that the inquiry will be completed shortly and report will be submitted to Superintendent of Police, Thiruvananthapuram and Director Vigilance.
It was also stated that during the inquiry, statements of 26 people were recorded, notices were repeatedly issued to state president and other office bearers of the Kerala Bar Hotels Association. But they failed to turn up before inquiry officials so far, it was submitted. It was further alleged that the office bearers requested the inquiry officer for a convenient date after November 28 and thereafter sought 30 days more time.
The bar bribery row was triggered after Ramesh alleged that the Association had paid Rs one crore to Mani who, he claimed, demanded Rs five crore for favourable decisions on reopening 418 bars closed since April. The new liquor policy of the UDF government envisages total prohibition in 10 years. The policy allowed functioning of only liquor bars attached to five star category hotels which virtually resulted in closing down of 700-odd liquor bars. Both Congress-led UDF and Mani, the 81-year-old supremo of Kerala Congress (M), have rejected the charges as baseless.