Kerala’s officialdom is locked in an extraordinary fratricidal tussle, which has seen the state’s anti-corruption agency target its top officers with accusations of corruption. The Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau (VACB) has raided the premises of Additional Chief Secretaries Tom Jose and K M Abraham. DGP (State Crime Records Bureau) N Sankar Reddy, too, is facing a probe.
However, Vigilance Director Jacob Thomas has himself been accused of irregularities and violations of service rules during his earlier innings at the Port Department and the Kerala Transport Development Finance Corporation.
The action, initiated on court orders following complaints by two private individuals, has put the government of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a difficult and embarrassing situation.
N Sankar Reddy
The 1986-batch IPS officer was ADGP at the VACB during the final year of the UDF regime of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. When then incumbent Vinson M Paul superannuated, Reddy was promoted as DGP and VACB Director. As Vigilance head, Reddy gave the nod to SP R Sukesan to submit a closure report in court on the bar bribery case for want of evidence to chargesheet the former Finance Minister, K M Mani.
After the LDF came to power in May, Reddy was removed as VACB Director. In August, Sukesan moved the Vigilance court seeking further probe against Mani, alleging that Reddy had tried to scuttle his investigation. The court agreed.
In September, a person named Payichira Navas (see box) moved the Vigilance court seeking a probe against both Reddy and Sukesan. Reddy moved the High Court, but got no relief.
Last month, Reddy wrote to the VACB Director, alleging a nexus between Payichira Navas and certain high-ups in the VACB. Reddy said Navas had moved a separate petition in the Vigilance court alleging that he (Reddy) had suppressed complaints against former CM Chandy in connection with the solar panel scam.
Dr K M Abraha
The 1982-batch Kerala cadre IAS officer, who is now Additional Chief Secretary (Finance), faces a probe into allegations of accumulating wealth disproportionate to income. The probe was ordered by the Vigilance court on allegations by activist Jomon Puthenpurackal who said Abraham had failed to report his assets during 1988-94, assets owned by his wife and daughter, and real estate owned by him and family in Kerala and Mumbai.
After the VACB inspected Abraham’s house, Abraham wrote to the Chief Minister, saying the manner in which the VACB had gone about its inspection showed ulterior motives on the part of Jacob Thomas. The Vigilance chief, Abraham alleged, was getting back at him for having recommended disciplinary action against Thomas in the finance inspection report regarding alleged irregularities at the Port Department. Following Abraham’s complaint, Thomas said the inspection of the senior IAS officer’s house had been carried out without his knowledge.
The 1984-batch IAS officer is president of the Kerala IAS officers’ association, and Additional Chief Secretary (Labour). He faces accusations of having wealth disproportionate to income. The VACB raided several of his premises last month, and reported to the court that he had amassed unexplained wealth of Rs 1.19 crore during 2010-16. VACB had probed the same allegation when the UDF was in power, and had cleared Jose.
Last month, VACB registered another case against Jose in connection with the purchase of magnesium for public sector venture Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited, allegedly flouting tender norms and causing losses to the exchequer. His alleged purchase of 50 acres of land in Maharashtra during the previous government’s tenure is also under the scanner.
Jose has urged the Chief Secretary to ensure he is treated fairly. His papers were in order, he has said, and alleged “the search warrant was obtained not for any genuine or bona fide intention, but to humiliate” him.
The financial inspection wing of the Finance Department had found irregularities in the construction of offices, installation of solar power systems and purchase of equipment at the time the VACB Director was with the Port Department. In September, the Port Department endorsed the financial inspection wing’s findings, and recommended action against Thomas.
In mid-October, one Sathyan Naravoor moved the High Court seeking a CBI probe into alleged service rule violations by the officer in 2009. Thomas, then Managing Director of Kerala Transport Finance Development Corporation, had taught at a private management institute for 3 months. Even though Thomas had given up the salary obtained from the institute in 2011, earlier this year then Chief Secretary Jiji Thomson recommended action against him for having taken up the teaching assignment without permission.
The complainant against DGP Sankar Reddy and Additional Chief Secretary Tom Jose is the leader of People’s Forum For Anti-Corruption Drive. In 2013, Navas was arrested under The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, and was in judicial custody for 55 days. In a separate case, he faces allegations of threatening former UDF Minister Anoop Jacob. Navas says he has not been convicted in either of these cases — “Why should they prevent me from fight corruption cases?” he asks. Both Reddy and Jose have questioned Navas’s intentions.