THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In a morale-boosting victory for the ruling LDF ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Lokayukta on Monday gave a clean chit to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and 18 members of his previous cabinet in a case related to the alleged misuse of Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF).
A full bench of the Lokayukta said there was no evidence to prove either nepotism or corruption in the cabinet decisions to give Rs 25-lakh financial aid to deceased NCP leader Uzhavoor Vijayan’s family, Rs 9-lakh assistance to the late MLA K K Ramachandran Nair’s kins and `20-lakh aid to the family of a police official killed in an accident.
The bench, comprising Lokayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph and Upa Lokayuktas Justice Haroon Al Rashid and Justice Babu Mathew P Joseph, said there was no substantial ground to state that the decisions were taken due to political considerations.
Justice Cyriac Joseph, however, observed that though the cabinet was competent to take the decisions, the process was defective. There’s substance in the allegation that the decisions were taken in deviation of extant rules and norms.
“There were no applications received from any of the beneficiaries of these decisions. The subject was not included in the agenda for cabinet meeting. There was no cabinet note for the consideration of the members of the cabinet... There was no justification for denying the authorities an opportunity to process applications, in accordance with the rules and to place the matter before the cabinet with an agenda note to enable the members of the cabinet to take a fair, proper and informed decision,” he said.
Lokayukta, deputies differ on Act purview
Justice Cyriac Joseph said the three decisions were taken in an arbitrary manner. However, it does not necessarily mean that the allegations of abuse of position/power, corruption, favouritism, nepotism and lack of integrity have been substantiated.
“There’s no sufficient material to come to the conclusion that the decisions were taken solely for political benefits,” he said. In his order, Justice Babu Mathew P Joseph said Rule 19 of the Rules of Business of the Government empowers the chief minister to give permission to consider matters as out of agenda items.
On whether the decisions taken by a cabinet can be subject to investigation under the Lokayukta Act, Justice Cyriac Joseph said the complaint was maintainable and can be investigated. However, the Upa Lokayuktas dissented.
Justice Harun Ul Rashid observed that a decision taken by the council of ministers, which is a constitutional body, stands outside the purview of the Act. Justice Babu Mathew P Joseph agreed. Petitioner R S Sasikumar said he would approach the High Court against the Lokayukta’s verdict.
The Opposition UDF also came out against the verdict.The petition was filed before the Lokayukta in September 2018. In March 2023, a division bench, comprising Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice Harun Ul Rashid, referred the case to a larger bench, after they failed to reach a consensus on certain points.
Difference of opinion
On whether cabinet decisions could be probed under the Lokayukta Act, Justice Cyriac Joseph said the complaint was maintainable and could be investigated. However, the Upa Lokayuktas disagreed.