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Kerala high court bins plea to probe Vijayan

The officer who used to helm the chief minister’s office is being investigated in connection with a gold smuggling case
Pinarayi Vijayan
Pinarayi Vijayan
File picture

K.M. Rakesh   |   Bangalore   |   Published 23.07.20, 02:34 AM

Kerala High Court on Wednesday dismissed a PIL that had sought directions to state and central agencies to launch an investigation on chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in connection with a gold smuggling case and several recent decisions.

The petitioner had cited issues such as the procurement of the Sprinklr data management software, developing the BevQ virtual queue management app for liquor stores and the appointment of an international consultancy for an ambitious e-Mobility project.

The bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly ruled that “judged from any angle, we are of the view that the petitioner has not made out a case for issuance of writ of mandamus”.

The officer who used to helm the chief minister’s office is being probed in connection with the smuggling case, in which 30kg of contraband gold from the UAE had been seized at Thiruvananthapuram airport after it was brought in cargo that had been made to look like a diplomatic baggage.

The petitioner, Michael Varghese, had on July 8 filed the writ seeking to bring the chief minister in the purview of the NIA probe into the gold smuggling case. The court treated it as a PIL.

The bench ruled that “the writ petition is not maintainable” since there was no point in ordering another inquiry if the offence was related to what the NIA was already investigating.

The petitioner had sought a direction to the CBI, NIA, or the crime branch of the state police to book an FIR and conduct an “effective, meaningful, independent and impartial inquiry” into the smuggling.

A few days after the petition was filed, the Centre ordered the NIA to probe the case.

“Merely because allegations are levelled against the Hon’ble chief minister and others and in as much as the allegations relate to the abuse of power, it cannot be contented that the nature and the magnitude require issuance of the writ as the only remedy available to the petitioner,” the court stated in its order.

M. Sivasankar, who was removed from the posts of secretary in the chief minister’s office and principal secretary of the IT department after he was linked to some of those accused in the gold smuggling case, had been made the second respondent in the petition. Another accused, Swapna Suresh, had been made the fifth respondent. 

The Sprinklr issue relates to the procurement of a data analytics and management software from a US-based firm that offered it for free for six months. It had been deployed to collect data from multiple channels of electronic communications and social media and collate them into usable information in the state’s battle against Covid-19.

The Congress had accused the state of selling precious data for Rs 250 crore and taken the matter to Kerala High Court, which had ordered the government to fulfil requirements of rules of procedures by getting clearances of the departments concerned.

The BevQ app is a virtual queue system for liquor outlets to reduce crowding during the pandemic. The Congress had claimed that the startup was allowed to make hundreds of crores.

The chief minister’s pet project, e-Mobility, for ushering in electric buses in the state also ran into trouble with the Congress accusing the government of “backdoor” appointment of an international consultancy.

Evidence claim

The leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress, on Wednesday accused the state government of destroying evidence pertaining to the gold smuggling case.

He claimed that chief secretary Vishwas Mehta was complicit in replacing the security camera system in the state secretariat on the pretext of lightning damage.“The order issued by the chief secretary… is part of a deliberate and organised effort to destroy evidence in the smuggling case as the accused are reported to have met key bureaucrats and ministers frequently,” Chennithala said.

He accused the chief secretary of trying to help Swapna and other contract employees use the state government emblem on her business cards.

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