The council meeting of the Kochi Corporation witnessed some turbulent scenes on Wednesday, as the opposition strongly censured Mayor Tony Chammany for failing to stick to his promise of conducting a discussion on a major corruption allegation related to the Chennai Silks showroom in the city. Though the Mayor accepted the demand for a vigilance enquiry into the allegation, the opposition wanted to know why the Mayor was reluctant to discuss the issue in the Council. The opposition alleged that Chennai Silks provided ‘benefits’ to the members to cover up illegalities.
This is the second time in a row that the council proceedings are being disrupted on the allegation that the corporation has lost crores of rupees by way of tax. The opposition had pressed for a vigilance enquiry in the last council. The meeting started on Wednesday with Ratnama Raju, chairperson, the Tax Appeal Committee (TAC), making a U-turn and extending all support for a vigilance enquiry into the issue. The leaders of Congress ‘I’, her faction, welcomed the demand for a vigilance enquiry. However, the opposition persisted on its demand for a detailed discussion on the issue.
The opposition alleged that the ruling body had kept in hiding a file related to the alleged tax evasion for one-and-a-half years, to help the owners of Chennain Silks evade tax amounting to `1.45 crores. A couple of years back, a vigilance squad of the TAC had blacklisted the building in which Chennai Silks operates. The squad had found violations including the parking space of the building being converted to a godown, toilets constructed at an area demarcated for sunshade projection and absence of a toilet on the sixth floor. Following this, the squad had hiked the tax imposed on the building by three times. Later Chennai Silks moved a petition to stay the hike. As per the direction of the High Court, the file came before the TAC.
“The note prepared by Ratnama Raju for the previous council, which stated that an earlier decision to impose tax on Chennai Silks stands cancelled, is suspect. Opposition leaders had written to the Mayor to include the discussion of the note as an agenda in Wednesday’s meeting. But this was dropped later. We wonder why the Mayor is afraid of discussing the issue of the alleged tax evasion. We cannot cooperate with the undemocratic behaviour of the Mayor,” said K N Anilkumar, the opposition Councillor. Agitating opposition councillors sieged the well of the house and raised slogans by levelling corruption charges against the ruling council. The Mayor dispersed the meeting as a result.
Later, talking to media persons, the Mayor said that the controversial agenda was cancelled in the previous meeting itself, as members of all the parties had opposed to it. “We cannot allow an agenda that was once cancelled to be discussed again. We have offered a vigilance enquiry into the issue. What more can be done?” said Mayor Tony Chammany.
It has been reported that the Mayor is planning to to take action against councillor Benedict Fernades who stood on the table of the house while protesting.