Fresh trouble for Vijayan as CBI takes up pet project for probe

Pinarayi Vijayan

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (Photo/IANS)


The CBI on Friday filed a detailed report in a special court in Kochi on the Kerala government's now-controversial Life Mission housing project, and also registered a case at the Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate's court.

Kochi: The CBI on Friday filed a detailed report in a special court in Kochi on the Kerala government's now-controversial Life Mission housing project, and also registered a case at the Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate's court.

In the FIR, it has named Santhosh Eapen, who heads the company which secured the contract for the housing project, and other employees of the firm.

The CBI has registered the case, citing a criminal conspiracy and serious violations of the foreign exchange rules.

This is seen as a huge setback to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who was losing his cool whenever the media questioned him on the issue. Following the developments, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala demanded that Vijayan must quit.

It was on Wednesday that Vijayan decided to order a Vigilance probe into the project.

The Life Mission project, a pet one for Vijayan ever since he assumed office in 2016, was floated to build houses for the homeless and landless, using funds from sponsorships, and the role of the state government was to provide the land only.

The project, however, ran into trouble when Anil Akkara, the Congress legislator from Wadakkanchery in Thrissur, first raised questions about the wrongdoings in a building project in his constituency, cleared with funds from UAE-based charity organisation, the Red Crescent.

Though Vijayan had been maintaining that the state government, apart from handing over the land, had no role in the project, but things began changing since the gold smuggling case surfaced.

This particular project was routed through the UAE Consulate, where main accused Swapna Suresh and P.S. Sarith, whose arrest led to uncovering of the scam, both worked. It turned murkier, when news surfaced that the son of state Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan was also close to Swapna.

Suspicions were also raised after Bineesh Kodiyeri, son of the powerful CPI-M state Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate.

Adding to the problems, it came out that the commission for the project was not Rs 1 crore, but more than that, as per Vijayan's media advisor as well as state Finance Minister Thomas Issac.

It was alleged that Swapna used her influence in the government and handed over the contract for construction to Eapen's firm and in the bargain, secured a fat amount as commission. It remains to be seen who all benefitted by getting a cut.

Vijayan, for the past one month, has been evading media's questions about the Life Mission project.

Speaking to the media, Akkara noted it was he who had first raised this fraud and he approached Governor Arif Mohammed Khan seeking justice.

"I knew the CBI would take up this case, as I had given them a detailed complaint on this case. Later I was called by the CBI and I gave them all the details I had about this project. Now I am happy that the CBI has taken the case up. This was a classic case where in the name of the poor, money was swindled... such a thing should never ever happen," he said.

Both the Congress and the BJP for long have been up in arms demanding a CBI probe and calling for the resignation of Vijayan for taking people for a ride.

State BJP President K.Surendran said this is a classic case of usurping of public funds.

"This particular project was cleared by Vijayan, who is the Chairman of the Life Mission. He even went to the UAE to source funds for this project. Swapna and (suspended IAS officer M.) Sivasankar had reached UAE a few days before Vijayan landed. Now that the CBI has taken up, every aspect that we raised on this will be looked into," he said.

Congress-led UDF Chairman Benny Behanan said if Vijayan has any morals left, he should quit immediately.

"This project was mired in controversy over its funding and the commission that was paid was the hard truth, which Vijayan always had dismissed with contempt. Everyone including Vijayan will now be questioned by the CBI and if he has any morals left, he should quit," he said.

Presently, the Customs, the National Investigation Agency, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax are probing the gold smuggling, drugs and the Life Mission case, but the opposition was demanding that only the CBI can probe this case, as external agencies were funding this project.

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