Kerala Excise Minister K Babu resigned on Saturday hours after the vigilance court in Thrissur asked the Vigilance & Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to register a case against him in the bar bribery scandal.
Babu, a senior Congress leader and a loyalist of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, is the second minister in the Congress-led UDF government to quit office in relation to the scam.
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In November last year, Kerala Congress (M) chairman K M Mani had resigned as finance minister after the high court upheld the order of the vigilance court, Thiruvananthapuram, for further probe in the case.
Vigilance Enquiry Commissioner and Special Judge, Thrissur, S S Vassan ordered registration of a case against Babu on a PIL filed by a Thrissur resident, George Vattukulam. He had accused bar owners’ association president Biju Ramesh of paying a bribe of Rs 1 crore to Babu to renew the liquor licence of sub-standard bars. The petitioner noted that there was “video evidence” of Ramesh directly handing over Rs 50 lakh to the minister in his office chamber.
Noting that “no result” had come out since the petition was filed on December 19, Judge Vassan said, “I am of the view that the enquiry is not going to get any result. The complaint shall be treated as the basis for this crime to be registered and the director, VACB, shall register a case and proceed with the investigation under section 156 (3) of the CrPC.”
Setting a deadline of February 22 for completion of the probe, the judge said the court would monitor it. Bibu Ramesh will also be investigated for allegedly paying the bribe.
Soon after the court order, the Opposition demanded that Babu resign, while Congress state chief V M Sudheeran admitted that the issue was serious. The minister held talks with Chandy, Sudheeran and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala before resigning.
The precedent set by Mani and the pressure from the party, that can hardly afford an embarrassment ahead of the Assembly elections, forced the minister’s hand.
Announcing his decision to quit, Babu said there was no pressure on him. However, he added, “I am a victim of a conspiracy involving bar owners, Biju Ramesh and CPM leaders. The CPM has given an assurance to bar owners that the party would review the present liquor policy if it came to power. Why did Ramesh not mention my name when he gave a statement to Vigilance four times in the past?”
Ramesh, in turn, threatened that there were more blows ahead for the Congress, and that he would reveal names of other ministers who had taken bribes.