Misuse of CM fund: Kerala Lok Ayukta refers case involving Pinarayi to larger bench

Lok Ayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice Harun-Ul-Rashid say there was difference of opinion on whether cabinet decisions can be subjected to its investigation

AI cameras row, Pinarayi Vijayan, Congress, corruption allegations
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a file photo

The Kerala Lok Ayukta on Friday (March 31) issued a split verdict on the alleged CMDRF misuse case involving Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his cabinet colleagues, and referred the matter to a larger bench. 

In the order, Lok Ayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice Harun-Ul-Rashid said the matter was being referred to a larger bench as there was a difference of opinion whether the decisions of the cabinet can be subjected to its investigation and also on the merits of the case. 

“As there is difference of opinion between us on the basic issue whether the action of respondents 2 to 18 in taking the impugned decisions as members of the Cabinet can be subjected to investigation under the provisions of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999 and on the merits of the allegations raised by the complainant, we are constrained to place this complaint for investigation by the Lok Ayukta and both the Upa-Lok Ayuktas together as required under Section 7(1) of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999,” the order said . 

Favouritism allegation

The Lok Ayukta had, in January 2019, admitted a complaint alleging the misuse of the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) filed by one RS Sashi Kumar. The complaint alleged “favouritism” in sanctioning financial aid from the fund to NCP leader late Uzhavoor Vijayan, former CPI(M) MLA, late KK Ramachandran Nair and to the family of Praveen, a civil police officer who died in an accident while undertaking escort duty for ruling CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. 

The complainant sought disqualification of the Chief Minister and the other ministers for misusing the fund.

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The plea hearing officially began on February 5, 2022, and was concluded on March 18, 2022. Even though the verdict had to delivered within 30 days of the conclusion of the hearing, per Order 20, Rule 1 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC), it took more than a year thanks to the controversial bill formulated by the state government which the Governor is yet to sign.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has not yet approved the legislation that the ruling Left Front government introduced to amend the Kerala Lokayukta Act by giving the Assembly the authority to review Lokayukta orders disqualifying ministers.

The controversial amendment

There were allegations that the amendment was made to avoid unfavourable rulings by the Lokayukta in this particular case against the Chief Minister.

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According to the amendment, the Assembly, not the Governor, would be the appropriate body to make a decision if the Lokayukta renders a decision against the chief minister in a corruption case. The chief minister would serve as the final arbiter of appeal for the ministers.

The opposition alleged that as the amendment gives the state government the authority to accept or reject the Lokayukta’s decision, it would make Lokayukta a toothless body.

With agency inputs