Kerala orders fresh probe into priest's death 13 years ago

Trivandrum - Re-investigation ordered into the mysterious death of Ezhava Hindu priest Swami Saswathikananda.

By T K Devasia

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Published: Sat 31 Oct 2015, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 1 Nov 2015, 10:50 AM

In what is seen as a move to divert public attention from the bar bribery case haunting it in the local body polls, Kerala's Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government has ordered a re-investigation into the mysterious death of Ezhava Hindu priest Swami Saswathikananda 13 years ago.
Announcing the probe, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told reporters at Aleppey that a special investigation team headed by Ernakaulam Crime Branch superintendent of police K. Madhu will conduct the probe. Crime Branch Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) S Anandakrishnan will supervise the investigation.
The decision followed examination of the revelation that Ezhava leader and Sree Naryana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) general secretary Vellpally Natesan had plotted the murder.
The minister said that the scrutiny of the revelations by home secretary and the crime branch had showed that there was sufficient evidence to reopen the case.
The crime branch that investigated the death had closed the case saying that the priest had drowned while bathing in Periyar River at Aluva.
But Biju Ramesh, a prominent Ezhava leader and businessman, alleged that Natesan and his son Thushar Vellappally had eliminated the seer after he questioned the misappropriation of funds by them. The Kerala High Court had also expressed doubt over the Crime Branch finding. While hearing a petition for a fresh probe, Justice B Kemal Pasha said that it was difficult to believe that Swami had drowned as he was a versatile swimmer.
The revelation came amid a concerted attack on Natesan from various quarters after SNDP forged an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan had also come out with serious corruption charges against Natesan in the micro-finance scheme run by Sree Naryana Dharma Paripalana Yogam.
These issues had dominated the campaign for the local body polls until the emergence of the bar issue following the vigilance court verdict ordering further probe into the bribery charges against Finance Minister K. M Mani. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan termed home minister's announcement regarding the probe as a political stunt.
The government, which kept mum when the high court heard the plea for a fresh probe a week ago, announced the probe just two days before the poll to divert the attention from the bar bribery issue. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy defended the decision saying that that the fresh probe was based on the widespread demand from various quarters, including opposition leader and the family members of Swami Saswatikananda.
However, the family members of the priest are apprehensive about another probe by a state agency. Shanthakumari, sister of the priest, said they preferred a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Meanwhile, the SNDP general secretary has termed probe as an act of cruelty to the departed soul. He said that he was ready to face any investigation.

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