In one of the notable corruption cases ever witnessed by Kerala, State Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau (VACB) has arrested former Public Works minister VK Ebrahim Kunju. The chief incriminating diclosure that led to the arrest of Ebrahim Kunju on Wednesday was the statement before VACB by former PWD secretary TO Sooraj, who was arrested in the case, that the former minister had a key role in the serious corruption that marked the construction of the Palarivattom bridge in Ernakulam city, and that the Managing Director of Roads and Bridges Development Corporation of Kerala (RBDCK) gave an advance amount to the contract on the instructions of the minister. Based on Sooraj's statement, VACB had interrogated Kunju three times during last February. In parallel, a complaint was filed in Kerala High Court accusing that the amount Ebrahim Kunju deposited in the account of his party Muslim League's mouthpiece daily, was the kickback he received in the Palarivattom construction transaction. The Centre's Enforcement Directorate has questioned the former minister in a money laundering allegation about this amount.
But the Opposition parties, especially Muslim League. allege that the arrest was meant to make a shield for the ruling party CPM and the government who are caught in a scandal surrounding the gold smuggling case in which the chief minister's principal secretary is under arrest. In addition, the the party secretary's son is also under arrest in a narcotics smuggling case. In this background, the Opposition says, this arrest drama is intended to make a balance between the two in the run up to the state's local bodies' election, and that it is politically motivated in the context when the Palarivattom bridge investigation is almost over with the final report due to be filed in the court shortly. The Opposition has already labelled it as a political move because though the left government goes whole hog in berating the central agencies for making politically motivated investigations in the state, it is now misusing the state mchinery under its control to achieve its political ends. Therefore, the Opposition has sworn to take on this move at legal and political levels.
The saga of Palarivattom bridge construction, steeped in corruption, and the tales of sleaze and malpractices revolving it, would dwarf even a film script. The construction of the bridge was launched in September 2014 under the then UDF government's fast-track plan at a cost of Rs 39 crores and was completed in two years, and in October 2016 the then chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan opened it for use. But within nine months of use, in July 2017 large potholes started forming on the bridge surface causing many road accidents. The blue print of the bridde was made by Delhi-based RDS Constructions and Kitco (Kerala Industrial and Technical Consultancy Organisation) was the design consultant. RBDCK was in charge of the construction. A private consultancy, commissioned by the National Highway Authority, spotted cracks and construction deficiencies. But it was in a subsequent detailed investigation by IIT-Madras that major faults were detected. The report led to the conclusion that it was ridden with corruption all along right from faulty design to deficiencies in supervision. On the basis of this expert report, on 3 May the government ordered a Vigilance enquiry, and VACB subitted its report to the court on June 4. Following this, the VACB made detailed interrogations of former PWD secretary TO Sooraj, MD of RDS Projects Sumit Goel, former Kitco MD Benny Paul, RBDCK's former additional manager MT Thankachan and arrested all of them. However, the probe took a crucial turn with the revelation that everything had gone on with the knowledge of the minister and it culminated in the former minister's arrest.
The patent corruption in the construction has been confirmed through investigations and inspections by all including NH Authority and E Sreedharan, engineering expert and former head of Delhi Metro. As a matter of fact, even the Opposition has no doubts about it. But they argue that the only involvement of the minister is signing of an order to extend a mobilisation advance, and that the government is using this to protect its sagging image by clamping down on several legislators including the former minister with charges in several cases. It it customary in Kerala to use any corruption case for political ends by blackmailing adversaries, rather than being driven by moral considerations of genuine anti-corruption stances. The pursuit of this case with its sequence would also vouch for this. But corruption cases of this nature cannot be allowed to turn into political weapons merely to mutually point fingers at, and silence opponents. Those guilty of such major malpractices should be brought before law and during the legal process they can either prove their innocence or receive sentence matching the gravity of crime. This is the only way to improve Kerala's image which the political-bureaucratic mafia has sufficiently tainted.