The Special Vigilance Court on Thursday dismissed the Vigilance report that gave a clean chit to Finance Minister Mani in the high profile Kerala Bar Bribe scam ordering further investigation on the matter.
The Enquiry Commissioner and Special Judge John K Illekadan rejected the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau report which had exonerated Mani stating there was no evidence to prove the charges against him of accepting bribes for the re-opening of closed bars. The timeline of the Bar Bribe scam, one of the biggest scandals in recent times, is as follows. Biju Ramesh, working president of Kerala Bar Hotel Owners’ Association, on October 30, 2014 had revealed that Finance Minister K M Mani demanded a bribe of Rs 5 crore and received Rs 1 crore from bar owners to reopen the 418 bars in the state that were closed following the State government’s new liquor policy. Both Chief Minister OOmmen Chandy and Minister Mani had denied the allegations on November 1. On November 2, an investigation into the matter was ordered after V S Achuthanandhan filed a complaint with the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau and the inquiry began on November 4. The Kerala Congress Mani group had said that the move against Mani was conspired and that it would be inquired at the party level. The CPM Secretariat also rejects VS Achuthanandhan’s demand for CBI probe saying that a state police inquiry under court’s eye was sufficient. On November 6, Bar Owners Association said that Mani was given Rs 20 crore in four years. All the members except Biju Ramesh changed their statements the next day (November 7) saying that they were in inebriated state.
Ramesh, on November 8, demands inquiry by a central agency. CPI state leader Pannyan Raveendran had attacked CPM on November 12 saying that it was engaging in ‘adjustment agitations’. CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan had hit back at the CPI on November 16 for the controversial remark. LDF decided to protest against Mani demanding his resignation and a series of events followed that rocked the state politics. The Opposition created a pandemonium in the Legislative Assembly on December 1 and 2. MLA V Sivankutty was suspended and the Speaker warned four Opposition MLAs for their misdoings in the House. The Vigilance department registered a case against the Finance Minister on December 11. The blame games continued. The state government then ordered to replace the bars with beer and wine parlours. Ramesh on January 17 revealed that Mani and P J Joseph exerted pressure to change his statements. Then telephonic conversation between Biju Ramesh and R Balakrishna Pillai then surfaced which revealed that Mani received bribes of Rs 19 crore from the jewelry owners and 2 crore from the mill owners besides taking crores from the bar owners. Rotten tales of corruption Kerala has never witnessed before surfaced in the coming days. ADGP Jacob Thomas was removed from the case inquiry on May 8. Collecting the statement of witnesses and legal advices followed. Vigilance AGDP rejected the investigation team’s report on the case citing ‘lack of evidence’ against Mani and more legal tangles followed. In the latest development seen as a heavy blow to the Finance Minister, the Thiruvananthapuram Vigilance court has ordered re-probe into the bar bribery case.
Beyond all the court orders and legal tangles, all Keralites are well aware of the Bar Bribe scam. It is the investigations and discourses related to the scam that provided information to the ordinary readers about the even bigger scandal known as the ‘Budget Selling’. Huge tax increase is declared for certain sectors in the budget. Bribes are collected from the persons concerned and the taxes are cut down. Despite the Bar bribe scam being one of the biggest scandals in state politics in recent times, our wily politicians overcame all the ‘hurdles’, defended themselves and put on a flawless public façade all the time. It was when the CPM was contemplating to form an ally with Mani and gain more power that the Bar Scam hit them. The Chief Minister made use of this opportunity to corner both Mani and the CPM who then reluctantly joined the forefront of protest against Mani. Even though Mani was sidelined for the time being, the CM wasn’t interested in taking the Bar scam ahead. Vigilance Director Thomas Jacob was transferred and the government initiated steps to shut down the case. The latest Vigilance Court verdict is therefore a setback to the Chandy government.
The Opposition has demanded Mani’s resignation. But he has refused to resign backed by the Chief Minister who said that Mani’s resignation was ‘not necessary’. The Finance Minister will not step down as that is our political custom. The CPM on the other hand sees the opportunity as the best propaganda tool for the local body polls. Other than these, it is pointless to believe that the verdict and the re-investigation could curb bribery. The politicians will get away after the graft squandering lakhs of money from the exchequer for the related inquiries and reappear exhibiting a gleeful façade. R Balakrishna Pillai who was imprisoned in the corruption case following V S Achuthanandhan’s appeal in the Supreme Court is presently with the Left Front. All these are instances of political machinations that would continue to dupe the people who pay the tax. Therefore we needn’t scratch our heads anticipating Mani’s resignation or his sentence in the Bar Bribery case.