Court verdict in land grab case cheers oppn in Kerala

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Court verdict in land grab case cheers oppn in Kerala

In election season, CM Chandy hit hard as HC orders CBI probe

By T K Devasia

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Published: Sat 29 Mar 2014, 11:18 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:51 PM

In a ruling that might give a big boost to the opposition campaign for the Lok Sabha elections just a fortnight away, the Kerala high court on Friday passed several critical remarks against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who leads the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) campaign, in a land grabbing case.

Justice Harul Ul-Rasheed came down heavily on Chandy while ordering a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the land grab cases involving his former gunman Salim Raj. Pointing out involvement of many of his personal aides in graft and criminal cases, the court called for an independent probe against them.

The judge held Chandy responsible for the presence of persons with criminal antecedents in his office that is supposed to serve as a model to others. The chief minister owes an explanation to the people, who have been hearing tales of scams involving his personal staff with shock and dismay, over this.

“There are allegations that Salim Raj was heading a land grab mafia. A kidnapping case is also filed against him. The prosecution lawyer points out that some members of chief minister’s office were also allegedly involved in the solar scam and one of them is presently under suspension for this. The criminal activities surrounding the chief minister’s office is shocking,” the judge observed.

The court made the damaging remarks while considering petitions filed by AK Shareefa of Kalamassery and Premchand Nair of Kadakampally alleging that Salim Raj had tried to grab one acre of land at Cochin and 15 acres at Trivandrum by forging documents and influencing officials. The land is said to be worth Rs2 billion.

The judge said that an agency of the state machinery would not be able to probe the deals since political leaders and men in power were allegedly involved in the case. Therefore, only a federal agency like the CBI can bring the guilty to the book.

The ripples of the high court remarks were immediately felt on the campaign front with opposition parties changing the campaign gear. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front, which was on defensive over political murders, grabbed the high court verdict to go on the offensive.

Party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and opposition leader V S Achuthanandan steered the campaign around the land scam by mounting a blistering attack on the UDF in general and the Chief Minister in particular. Both called for his resignation. Party politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan termed the high court remarks a big blow on the face of Chandy.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has also turned their focus on the land scam saying that it was a pointer towards the failure of administration of justice in the state. Party state president V Muralidharan said the high court verdict was an expression of ‘no-confidence’ against the chief minister and urged him not to cling on to the chair.

Chandy refused to immediately react to the verdict. Sources close to him said he will separately call a press conference to respond to the charges against him. However, senior ministers and leaders sought to defend him saying the government had removed all accused from the chief minister’s personal staff.

Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala pointed out that the government had never opposed a CBI probe into the case as it had nothing to hide in the matter. He welcomed the CBI probe ordered by the court.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president V M Sudheeran said that the chief minister had taken action against officials as soon as their wrong doings came to his notice. He said Chandy himself will reply to the allegations.

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