Life-Mission is a scheme that was launched as a dream project of the left democratic front (LDF) government of Kerala, with a goal to provide safe and decent housing in the form of flats or houses to all those who had no land, or had land but could not build a house, and those with half-built homes or uninhabitable premises. According to the progress report released by the government a few days ago, over the last four years of its term, the government has been able to build and provide housing to 2.2 lakh people. However, now this pet project of the Pinarayi government, and counted as the top item of its achievements, has also run into controversy with charges of corruption and nepotism levelled against it. The scandal starts with an allegation by a construction contractor, Unitac of Thrissur, who have deposed before Enforcement Directorate (ED) that it had to dole out a bribe of Rs 4.35 rore for being awarded the Rs 20 Cr construction consisting of the LifeMission apartment project and a hospital. This project, located in Wadakkanchery in Thrissur district, was sponsored by the Red Crescent of United Arab Emirates (UAE). As per the affidavit submitted to the court by ED's investigation officers, Rs 1 Cr out of this Rs 4.35 Cr of commission, was received and stored in a bank safe locker by one of the accused Swapna Suresh, who has confessed to the act, and also confirmed that it was done with the knowledge of the chief minister's principal secretary M Sivasankar.
This disclosure contradicts the explanation given by the chief minister that neither the government nor LifeMission had any connection with Unitac. The exchange of communications between Red Crescent General Secretary and CEO of Life Mission UV Jose, after the chief minister signed the memorandum of understanding, makes it clear that all approvals required for the construction would be cleared, and that the houses should be handed over to it after construction. The correspondence also precisely indicates that the government was agreeable to entrusting the construction to Unitac. And in the agreement between the UAE Consul General and Unitac signed on 31 July 2019, it is stated that the construction works will be supervised by a consultancy agency and the state government. In brief, the recent report of ED brings under a cloud of suspicion LifeMission - whose chairman is the chief minister -, his own former Principal Secretary, local self-government minister AC Moideen and Local Self-Government Secretary.
Right from the beginning of the scam of gold-smuggling using diplomatic channel, it had become evident that the deal had sullied the reputation of chief minister's office and an inner circle of officials under it. As the probe moves further forward, the suspicions against the government are thickening. Each passing day is strengthening the conviction that Swapna and her accomplices were not merely gold smugglers, but also had a role in several projects of the government too. IN the case of the UAE tour, Swapna and Sivasankar had arrived in UAE and held talks before the chief minister did. It is also reported that she had made foreign tours at last three times with Sivasankar. Further, those including a minister have received diplomatic parcels in violation of protocols and with the help of UAE consulate and the Consul General.
Following the central agencies submitting a report to the minister of external affairs citing that minister KTJaleel had violated diplomatic protocol, the state government's protocol officer B Sunil Kumar has also replied to the Customs that in the last two years, no formal request for exemption certificate was issued for diplomatic parcels. Even the report about the Rs 4.35 commission involved in the LifeMission deal, was revealed by none other than the chief minister's media adviser. Now when it transpires that ministers and top officials had connections, both legal and illegal, with Swapna and her associates, and with the UAE Consulate, the government has an obligation to order a thorough enquiry into their entire dealings with the government. However, when even primary questions related to Swapna are raised by mediapersons, the chief minister has been found to react in a highly emotional tone. If there is nothing shameful in its act, why should the government be afraid of such questions and a comprehensive probe?
The MOU signed between the Red Crescent Authority and the state government was to build houses for flood-affected people. This project was also a result of the rehabilitation efforts during the flood by expatriate Keralites and Red Crescent. As such, there is also an underlying charge that the funds intended for flood relief are being diverted to the Life Mission project. True, the recipients of LifeMission aid will definitely be homeless and deserving. But when those who suffered hugely in the flood damage in Kavalappara and Puthumala are still smuggling without homes, the flow of flood-relief funds into a different channel amounts to a gross irregularity. Therefore, the Wadakkanchery flat scam also underlines the need for auditing how the funds received by Kerala for flood relief are being utilised by the government.