It was a truce too good to last. After a six-month hiatus, CPI(M) stalwarts V S Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan are at each other’s throats again, with Achuthanandan, who is also leader of the Opposition, mocking Vijayan’s contention that he was in no way connected to the SNC Lavalin scam.
The immediate trigger for the factional feud was a submission by Vijayan’s counsel in the Special CBI court during consideration of Vijayan’s discharge petition.
Achuthanandan rejected Vijayan’s counsel M K Damodaran’s stand in the court that the E Balanandan Committee report against a deal with SNC Lavalin, a Canadian company, was prepared without any scientific basis. Achuthanandan said the argument of Vijayan’s counsel was absurd. What has been prepared by the E Balanandan Committee was on the basis of scientific study into the deal. He pointed out that the Balanandan Committee was a high-power committee appointed by the then LDF Government led by E K Nayanar.
He also rejected Damodaran’s charge that the committee did not have experts to go into the merits of the deal. The fact that the committee had come to the conclusion that the deal would be detrimental to the interests of the state on the basis of the reports by the Central Electricity Authority, whose opinion is considered to be final on such issues, also added strength to the stand taken by Achuthanandan. He pointed out that the Balanandan committee’s findings cannot be rejected or slighted as it was a powerful panel led by someone, who was then a Politburo member and the head of the party’s parliamentary party in the Rajya Sabha.
It was in June, 2009, that the CBI filed chargesheets against the nine accused in the `374-crore scam related to Canada-based SNC Lavalin. Vijayan, as then state power minister, had inked the final agreement in 1997 for the renovation of three power plants with SNC Lavalin. He was arraigned as the seventh accused.
A CBI probe team last week submitted an affidavit in the CBI Court claiming that it had sufficient evidence to link Vijayan to the case relating to the renovation of three power plants of Panniar, Pallivasal and Chenkulam.
The CBI filed the affidavit after Vijayan approached the CBI court with a discharge petition claiming he had done no wrong. CBI said that Vijayan went to Canada to finalise the agreement but was not accompanied by any expert. The CBI also pointed out that Vijayan went ahead with the agreement despite being asked not to do so by the then power secretary. CBI also pointed out that Vijayan had signed the agreement on the financial commitment the government had to honour while renovating the power plants. But he had not signed an agreement making it mandatory for SNC Lavalin to provide financial assistance to the Malabar Cancer Centre, an important component of the deal. Instead, he signed only an MoU with a short validity period. He had not revealed the matter even to the then Chief Minister, the CBI said.
Now, Achuthanandan is planning to take on the mighty state secretary with these facts. It will definitely lead to another open tug-of-war between the official faction and the veteran leader. The CPI(M) politburo commission is about to visit the state soon to conduct a sitting on Achuthanandan’s complaint against the official leadership’s effort to remove him from the post of Opposition leader.
Raising suspicion over the letter sent by Vijayan to SNC-Lavalin Company during his term as power minister, the CBI Special Court has observed that there was “something fishy” about it.
Vijayan’s counsel Damodaran, however, alleged that there was some political conspiracy behind including his client in the case. He alleged that there was some mystery behind stopping the investigation in 1998 even when the investigation period was between August 1995 and December 2005. Though four ministers had dealt with the issue, only Vijayan was made an accused, he said.
On the allegation that Vijayan had neglected the reports of the Balanandan Committee and Subaida Committee before an agreement was reached for the renovation of Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniyar projects, Damodaran said there was nothing legally wrong in avoiding the reports. “There was nothing wrong as an in-depth study was not conducted by the committees,” he said.
Achuthanandan reacted by saying the submission revealed Vijayan’s ‘petty mindedness’.
Afraid of Talks?
In a related development, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has asked leaders of the Opposition LDF why they are so “afraid” of discussing the terms of reference of the announced judicial probe in the solar case.
“The stand of the Opposition that it is not ready for any discussion is anti-democratic,” said Chandy. “I’m wonderstruck that how one can desist from holding discussions in a democracy,” the chief minister added, in the course of a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday.
“Holding discussions would have been fine. If they are not willing to discuss the terms of reference with us, let them suggest someone else (mediators). There is still relevance for discussions,” he said, adding that as in the case of announcement of the judicial probe in the solar issue, the terms of reference would also be set in a fully transparent manner.
“There is nothing wrong in the Opposition demand. If one cannot understand what the government is saying even after this much of clarifications, then they will comprehend it when the terms of reference is finalised,” he said amid laughter.