On Wednesday, a single-judge Bench of the Kerala High Court upheld an earlier CBI court verdict acquitting Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the SNC-Lavalin deal, giving a new lease of life to the CPM strongman. It also makes things easier for Pinarayi as the Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin was an albatross around his neck for the past two decades.
It had come back to haunt him on many occasions—something the politically nuanced public of the state could not have missed. The case pertains to a contract awarded by the state government to SNC- Lavalin for the renovation and modernisation of the Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniar hydroelectric projects of the Kerala State Electricity Board.
In 2013, the Thiruvananthapuram CBI court acquitted Pinarayi, but the CBI moved a revision petition. Kerala’s UDF government sought to expedite the hearing just before the 2016 Assembly elections. On Wednesday, the Kerala High Court put an end to the long and bitter battle that was as much political as it was legal.
Rejecting the review petition, the judge questioned the CBI for ‘picking-and-choosing’ Pinarayi Vijayan. The CBI, in all likelihood, may go for an appeal before the Supreme Court. Till then, the 202-page verdict from the Kerala High Court would remain the last word in the SNC-Lavalin case, at least from the political perspective.
The verdict will see Pinarayi emerge stronger—both within the party and the government. With a weak Opposition struggling to keep up, it is evidently a political victory for the Kannur strongman. This verdict will enable him to concentrate on pursuing governance, especially those projects which require the development stamp in a state starved of new initiatives.
To be sure, he has been focusing on a few development projects since the LDF was voted to power with an overwhelming majority in May 2016. With the Lavalin case that was a Damocles sword now a thing of the past, Pinarayi can now set the pace for the state’s development.