Judge recuses himself from Kerala palmolein scam case

TRIVANDRUM — In a dramatic development, special vigilance court judge P K Haneefa on Saturday recused himself from hearing the politically volatile palmolein import case that rocked Kerala in the early 1990s.

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Published: Sun 25 Sep 2011, 9:18 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:57 AM

The judge announced his decision in an open court after calling an emergency hearing citing personal attacks on him from several quarters over his order to reinvestigate the role of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in the case. The judge said he had requested the high court to transfer the case to another court. “I had passed the order as per the procedures laid down by law. “But some questioned it and resorted to character assassination against me. Under the circumstances it is not proper for me to continue with the hearing in the case”, Haneefa said.

The decision came a day after high court judge Justice N K Balakrishnan withdrew from hearing a petition filed by senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Jiji Thomson, the fifth accused in the case, challenging the vigilance court verdict.

The vigilance judge and his verdict have been a hot topic of debate in political and legal circles in the state after government chief whip P C George petitioned President Prathibha Patil and others, demanding action against Haneefa for violating the norms.

George, who contended that Haneefa’s order was against a series of Supreme Court verdicts in similar cases, termed his decision to withdraw from the hearing an escape. He asserted that he will pursue his complaint.

He said that he will also move the authorities against advancing the hearing in the case, which was scheduled to be held on November 10. The judge should explain the reason for taking up the case on Saturday by summoning the counsels of the accused and the prosecutors through telephone. The chief whip pointed out that he had questioned the vigilance court verdict as an ordinary citizen of the country to protect the integrity of the judiciary. I will continue my fight until the wrong is corrected”, said the government chief whip.

Chandy refused to comment on the vigilance judge’s decision. He said neither he nor any accused or witnesses in the palmolein case had expressed lack of confidence in the judge. “I have no complaints against his order”, he added. However, the opposition has termed the withdrawal of Haneefa from the hearing in the case a result of remote maneuvering by the Chief Minister to save his skin. Leader of opposition V S Achuthanandan said the chief whip’s complaint and the petition filed by Jiji Thomson were part of this.

He pointed out that Jiji Thomson had moved the high court as a favour to Chandy for denying permission to prosecute him. Achuthanandan alleged that the Chief Minister was also trying to use Vigilance Director Desmond Netto to torpedo the case.

He said that the vigilance judge’s decision was a clear indication that the judiciary could not function independently under the United Democratic Front dispensation. “We will watch the situation and intervene if the judicial process is affected”. news@khaleejtimes.com

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