THE CBI on Tuesday filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the clean chit given to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the multi-crore SNC-Lavalin graft case.
The appeal challenges the decision on August 23 of the Kerala High Court, which upheld a trial court order discharging Vijayan in the case that had set off a political storm in the state and even led to an internal tussle within the CPI(M) between him and veteran V S Achuthanandan.
Vijayan had denied the allegations and maintained that the case was “politically motivated”.
On November 5, 2013, a designated CBI court in Thiruvananthapuram discharged Vijayan and six other accused in the case. The CBI then approached the High Court, which upheld the discharge of Vijayan and two others. However, it set aside the discharge of three of the accused and directed that the case against them be revived in the trial court.
The case relates to the award of contracts for renovation and modernisation of three hydro-electric projects in Kerala between 1995 and 1997, when Vijayan was the electricity minister. The MoU between the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and the Canadian company was signed on August 10, 1995. Subsequently, an audit by the Principal Accountant General of Audit in Kerala pegged the loss to the exchequer due to the deal at over Rs 350 crore.
The report of the PAG triggered a storm, which led to an inquiry by the state’s Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB). The Bureau said that it found some substance in the PAG’s findings on the circumstances and “elements of misconduct” in the contracts, and registered a case against eight persons. Subsequently, the CBI took over the probe following a High Court order. The agency dropped some names from the list of accused while adding Vijayan and then joint secretary of the electricity department.
According to the CBI, the MoU between KSEB and the Canadian company was later replaced by three consultancy contracts, which in turn were replaced by three supply contracts.
The CBI alleged that Vijayan as electricity minister showed undue haste and interest in the execution of the supply contracts in February 1997. It claimed that the KSEB executed the contract in haste at the instance of the minister, when SNC Lavalin offered grants for the construction of a cancer hospital in Kannur. The agency claimed that Vijayan hastily obtained approval of the State Cabinet in the matter by suppressing material facts.
The High Court, however, dismissed the CBI’s case. Delivering the verdict, Justice P Ubaid said, “I do not find any material to substantiate such an allegation that anything concerning the supply contracts between the SNC Lavalin and the KSEB was suppressed by the 7th accused (Vijayan) from the Cabinet… there is no explanation why the CBI picked and chose the Electricity Minister for prosecution… The Cabinet happened to give approval on the basis of the materials furnished and reported by the KSEB. If so, it would be unjust and illegal to pick and choose the Electricity Minister and prosecute him, for the wrong or illegality committed by the KSEB.”