WITH PRESSURE mounting on him to step down over charges of alleged land encroachment at his luxury resort in Alappuzha, Kerala Transport Minister and NCP MLA Thomas Chandy on Wednesday resigned from the CPI(M)-led LDF government. The resignation comes a day after the Kerala High Court rejected a petition by Chandy, who had challenged a government report which alleged that his Lake Palace resort on the Marthandam backwaters of Alappuzha had, in violation of conservation rules, constructed a parking area and a road through a paddy field to lead to the resort. While rejecting the petition, the court had come down heavily on the minister for questioning the report of his own government.
On Wednesday, ministers of the CPI, the second leading constituent of the LDF, boycotted the weekly Cabinet meeting to register their protest against Chandy continuing in power and accused Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan of shielding the minister. Chandy, one of the two NCP MLAs in the state, resigned after attending the Cabinet meeting.
“The Chief Minister did not ask me to quit. I have voluntarily offered to resign for the sake of the government’s image. I will approach the Supreme Court tomorrow and seek to quash the report of the District Collector and remove the High Court’s adverse remarks. If I get a favourable order, I will return to the Cabinet. I have got an assurance from the Chief Minister in this regard. It was the CPI’s adamant stand that led to my resignation,’’ said Chandy.
Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Vijayan said: “Chandy has every right to attend the meeting as long as he remains a minister. The issue should be seen legally… the NCP leaders wanted their central leadership to take a decision after weighing the High Court order.”
Chandy, 70, is the third minister in the Vijayan government to face an unceremonious exit in the last 18 months. The wealthiest legislator in the Kerala Assembly with assets of Rs 92.37 crore, according to his 2016 election affidavit, Chandy became a minister in April after his party colleague, A K Saseendran, stepped down over a phone sex scandal. In October last year, E P Jayarajan of the CPI(M) had to quit on charges of nepotism.
A few months after he took charge as minister, allegations of land encroachment at his Alappuzha resort began to haunt the businessman-cum-politician. The CPI, which handles the revenue department in the LDF government, had taken a tough stand and ordered a probe by District Collector T V Anupama. In her report, the collector had said that the resort had violated provisions of the Kerala Land Conservation Act and Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act by reclaiming a part of the Marthandam backwaters, on which his Lake Palace Resort sits.
After Chandy’s resignation, NCP state president T P Peethambaran said the party continued to stand by him. “He quit not because the party was convinced about his mistake, but due to a misconception created by the media and the approach of the CPI, which is against the collective responsibility of the ruling front,’’ he said, adding that the NCP’s Cabinet berth would stay vacant until one of the two — Saseendran or Chandy — proved the charges wrong and returned to the Cabinet.
After Tuesday’s High Court rap, Chandy had put up a brave face, saying the court had only made “harsh oral observations” against him and that he would get relief from the Supreme Court. The NCP has high stakes in fighting for the only ministerial berth the party holds anywhere in the country. Party sources said they would work to ensure the return of Saseendran, the other NCP MLA, to the Cabinet. The woman journalist who had complained against Saseendran in the sex scandal case recently moved the High Court, seeking to withdraw the complaint. The case comes up for hearing in the High Court on November 24. A judicial commission which is looking into the case is expected to submit its report this month.