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Thursday, December 03, 2020

Kerala: Why CM Vijayan said central probe agencies out to ‘malign, destabilise’ his govt

In connection with the investigation into the gold smuggling case, the ED has sought details of some Kerala government schemes, irking Pinarayi Vijayan.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: November 3, 2020 9:23:06 pm
Kerala gold smuggling case, Pinarayai Vijayan, M sivasankar, swapna suresh,Vijayan recently said central probe agencies analysing policies and programmes of the state government was 'in no way acceptable to those who believe in democratic values'. (File)

For the first time since the gold smuggling scandal broke, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Monday slammed central investigating agencies, saying they had exceeded their jurisdiction to ‘malign and destabilise’ an elected state government.

Vijayan, who had earlier rushed a letter to the Prime Minister urging a comprehensive probe by central agencies into the smuggling case, now said a situation had arisen where central probe agencies were analysing policies and programmes of the state government, which ‘is in no way acceptable to those who believe in democratic values and respect the Constitution’.

What has promoted Vijayan’s outburst is ED seeking details about Kerala-Fiber Optic Network (K-FON) and e-mobility projects, handled by suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar as the state IT secretary, until his exit from the CMO in the wake of the smuggling scandal.

Besides, financial transactions in a housing project of the government, implemented with funding from Emirates Red Crescent, are also being probed by the central agencies. Sivasankar, who has been arrested by the ED, was involved in the housing deal also.

K-FON

Kerala-Fiber Optic Network (K-Fon) is one of the flagship projects of the state government. The Rs 1500-crore project is aimed at having the state’s own high speed internet network system in a market dominated by private players as well as BSNL. Kerala has already a high speed wired and wireless internet system, which has reached every nook and corner of the state. All educational institutions have internet facilities.

However, K-FON is envisaged to give free internet to 20 lakh BPL families. The state has formed a consortium led by Bharat Electronics Limited. An optic fibre network would be erected for taking internet to customers and offices, using the distribution infrastructure of the KSEB. Once K-FON becomes a reality – it is expected to be launched within two months – all government offices and educational institutions will shift to it.

Also Read | Sivasankar tried to get cargo released from Customs, discussed with smuggling accused, says ED

The project is being implemented by Kerala State IT Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL), which had Sivasankar as the chairman. Gold smuggling scandal accused Swapna Suresh, who has no educational qualifications, had worked under KSITIL.

E-mobility

E-mobility project of the state was envisaged to roll out 10 lakh electric vehicles by 2020. Government departments have been encouraged to shift to electric vehicles. Early this year, the government had appointed PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as the consultant of the Rs 4,500-crore project.

After the gold smuggling case emerged, the Opposition picked up discrepancies in the project – mainly the selection of the consultancy without the mandatory tender process. The appointment of PwC was without the consent of the cabinet and Sivasankar had reportedly taken a lead role as IT secretary.

Even the transport department was in dark about the deal. In the wake of the allegations, the government had recently removed PwC from the consultancy job. Sivasankar had got PwC to recommend Swapna Suresh for the manager’s post at Space Park under the IT Department.

Life Mission

As an offshoot to the probe into the gold smuggling case, another scandal pertaining to the state’s flagship project Life Mission has cropped up. Probe has found that Swapna Suresh allegedly pocketed Rs 4.25 crore as kickbacks in a Rs 20-crore Life Mission apartment project, being implemented with financial aid from Emirates Red Crescent.

The deal between UAE Consulate and Kerala Life Mission was pushed through, flouting normal government procedures, at the behest of Sivasankar.  CBI had initiated a probe here, but the government got an interim stay from the high court. However, the state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) has on Monday listed Sivasankar as an accused in the case.

The Vigilance, in its FIR, said Sivasankar had influenced the Life Mission officials to hand over a housing deal to a contractor and was privy to the kickbacks. The project was meant to construct 199 apartments and a hospital at Vadakkanchery in Thrissur, at the cost of Rs 20 crore. With Rs 4.25 crore allegedly paid as bribe to Swapna, the number of houses was reduced to 144 and the hospital component was dropped.

After Sivasankar was arrested in the gold smuggling case, the ED questioned another senior IAS officer, U V Jose, the CEO of Life Mission, which again provoked the Chief Minister.

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