Kerala government plea to drop palm oil case rejected

Thrissur (Kerala) Jan 10 : The Kerala government's request to withdraw the infamous palmoil import case that took place way back in 1992 was turned down by a court here Friday.

In September last year, the Oommen Chandy government approached the Thrissur vigilance court with the request to withdraw the case, but soon thereafter Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan of the Communisrt Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and CPI legislator V.S. Sunil Kumar filed a petition opposing the withdrawal.

On Friday, the vigilance court judge refused to take up the request of the state government, and posted the case for hearing Feb 22.

The state government approached the court stating that there was no corruption involved in the case, and since the matter had been in the courts for more than two decades, government officials who were party to the case were finding their careers affected.

The import of 15,000 tonnes of palm oil was undertaken in 1992.

The case was registered in 1999, when the communists, led by E.K. Nayanar, were in power.

Former chief minister K. Karunakaran, then food minister T.H. Mustafa and bureaucrats P.J. Thomas and Jiji Thompson were charged with causing a loss of Rs.2.32 crore to the state exchequer by importing oil from Malaysia at an enhanced price.

Thomas had to step down as the central vigilance commissioner and Thompson's promotion prospects hit a dead-end on account of the inordinate delay in the case.

Chandy, in June last year, got a clean chit from the Kerala High Court when it dismissed a petition filed by Achuthanandan and former bureaucrat and legislator K.J. Alphonse, requesting cancellation of the Thrissur vigilance court verdict in May last year.

The vigilance court had accepted a report by its probe team, giving a clean chit to Chandy.

The court held that Chandy had no role in the import of palm oil, even though he was the finance minister in the Karunakaran cabinet.

Speaking to reporters, Kerala government chief whip P.C. George said this is a needless case, that has dragged on for far too long.

"Look, Chandy, when he was leader of opposition (2006-11), had made it amply clear in the assembly that if he was the chief minister, he will withdraw the case and he did it because there has been no loss at all to the exchequer. This is nothing but a non-issue, and has been used for purely political reasons," George said.

This is the second time Chandy is petitioning the court in this matter. In an earlier term as chief minister in March 2005, he had sought the case be withdrawn. After his term ended, the new Left government under V.S.Achuthanandan did not take the matter up.

Reacting to the court's order Friday, Achuthanandan said: "I welcome this order from the court."

Unni Krishnan, counsel for Sunil Kumar, said the court pointed out that the prosecutor who moved the application for withdrawal is not at all involved in the case, and moved it without giving much thought.

He said the court also pointed out that if allowed, the petition would go against public interest.

Meanwhile, Congress legislator P.C. Vishnunath has held that Achuthanandan was acting in vengeance. "It was so unfortunate that Achuthanandan approached the Supreme Court with this case against Karunakaran, when Karunakaran was breathing his last a few years ago," he said.

--IANS (Posted on 10-01-2014)

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