Kerala'sbiggest financial scam, the Rs. 374.50 crore SNC Lavalin case, took a major turn when the CBI submitted their case report before the High Court and the CBI Special Court at Cochin, fixing the CPM state secretary and politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan as the 9th accused. It is the first time that a politburo member of an Indian Communist Party become an accused in CBI charge sheeted corruption case. So news hit world media. This is the biggest ever crisis CPM faces since their formulation in 1964.
To the great dismay, the pseudo ideologists-clean-imagers, instead of dropping party all set out to protect him! In a frantic attempt to endure the situation, CPM manifestations of rallies and public meetings blabs their own greatest turmoil.
The hullabaloo become snooping when the senior most CPM man and the Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, within 24 hours on filing of the report, cancelled all his official programmes and rushed to New Delhi. He handed over a letter to the party Secretary Prakash Karat demanding the removal of Vijayan from office. Further he distanced himself from the party line and publicly demanded that the Lavalin company be blacklisted and recover the amount due to the state. He clarified that it would be difficult for the party to face the upcoming elections with Vijayan at the helms. But the central office of CPM, which runs mainly with the finance of Kerala unit not only sent away the Old Guard back but hugged Vijayan firm saying the CBI move is a political one.
The scandal had its genesis in a 1996 agreement that the Congress-led UDF Government got the State Electricity Board (KSEB) to sign with a Canadian power consulting company, SNC Lavalin, for replacing and modernising the obsolete generators in three hydroelectric projects at Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniar.
Vijayan, as the Power Minister in the then Left Government, had led the renegotiation of the contract with the Canadian company, personally leading a team to Canada, and later formalised the deal.
The awarding of the project has run into controversy because the CAG'sperformance audit of the programme found fault with it. Neither the renovated power stations were generating power at least to the same level as that of pre-renovation, nor did the promised aid to the MCC (Malabar Cancer Centre) materialise.
Allegations rocked Assembly House several times. UDF Government conducted a vigilance enquiry. In vigilance'sfinal report Vijayan was not arrayed as an accused. (In sharing and hushing up deals both Fronts are like Siamese twins.) Then some media person approached the High Court seeking CBI enquiry.
A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court ordered an inquiry by the CBI into the SNC Lavalin case.
During the course of investigation, Vijayan'sinvolvement came to light apart from the other accused, CBI said in its report.
Vijayan while serving as Electricity Minister between May 1996 and October 1998 colluded with the Power Secretary and joined criminal conspiracy which was already hatched in 1995 by the former KSEB chairman and others in the matter of awarding supply contracts of the projects to Lavalin. Vijayan had led a high level delegation to Canada in October 1996 and held discussions with SNC Lavalin and Export Development Corporation International Development agency regarding the contract and took a decision in awarding the supply contracts to Lavalin at a fixed rate basis.
The main consideration in the award of the contract, which was signed by KSEB on February 10, 1997 without government approval, was the grant offered for establishment of Malabar Cancer Centre (MCC) at Thalassery in Kannur district (the home district of CPM cruelty, where scores of RSS youths laid to death).
The E Balanandan committee, appointed by the Kerala government, in its report had opined that the complete replacement of the machinery need not be carried out for the hydel projects and essential parts alone need to be replaced for which the estimated cost will be around Rs 100.5 crore. This recommendation was overlooked and the supply contract was signed just a week after Vijayan received the report, CBI said.
Vijayan along with then Chief Minister, late E K Nayanar and then KSEB chairman, again visited Canada during June 1997 where the grant amount to establish the MCC was decided at Rs 100 crore.
The CBI stated that Vijayan along with other accused had ?fraudulently with dishonest intention? of showing undue favour to SNC Lavalin entered into only a ?non binding? memorandum of understanding on April 25, 1998 for MCC instead of a legally valid MoA which facilitated Lavlin to back out from the commitment later, thereby ?cheating the government.?
Power Secretary signed the MoU and no government order was issued authorising him to sign the same, but there was concurrence of Vijayan,CBI said. Lavlin, taking advantage of the non binding agreement, backed out of the commitment after spending only about Rs. 12 crore through its consultants, thus not financing MCC to the tune of Rs 86.25 crore.
As part of the criminal conspiracy Vijayan, and other government officials placed a crucial note for approval before the Council of Ministers on March 3, 1998, after suppressing various facts, including the fact that MoU route was dispensed with the Union Government, full report of the National Hydel Electric Power Corporation was not highlighted and concurrence of Central Electrical Authority, and obtained cabinet approval, CBI stated.
Vijayan also had close contacts with SNC Lavalin officials and by abusing his official position had exerted ?high pressure? on the staff of KSEB and thereby favoured Lavalin in their official dealings with KSEB, CBI said.
The investigations revealed that supply contract for renovation and modernisation of the Panniyar, Shengulam and Pallivasal hydel projects was given to SNC Lavalin at an exorbitant rate and the per MW cost for the same was the highest. This caused a loss to the Kerala government with corresponding wrongful gain to Lavalin, CBI said.
The bliss of loyalists of Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan is at its zenith. To them, it is the time they dreamt. But the poor cadres are really confused and worried. They believe that, the sand is further eroding under the party feet.
No recent incidents make party happy. In addition to the grave groupism and rift, the outcasted party rebels are coming up overwhelmingly victorious in the recent local-body elections. For a long time party has been facing the dropping of youths. A dozen of young former or present MPs are either dropped or on their heels to the door. The last of its turn got to the CPM lone young Muslim MP Abdulla Kutty, from Kannur. Abdulla Kutty is now under suspension from CPM due to his remark that, ?the party should emulate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi'sdevelopment agenda.? Those uttered truth is out, while the thieves are hugged. This is what is called ?dialectical materialism?!
(The author is a lawyer of Kerala High Court and can be contacted at D-14, Asoka Apartment, Near High Court, Marine Drive, Ernakulam..)