Left front plans show of strength as central agencies tighten noose

Battling a big crisis after the exit of CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and allegations of kickbacks in government programmes, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala is planning a series of agitations against the Centre alleging it is using central agencies to weaken the state government.

On Monday, it is holding a state-wide protest in which participation of 25 lakh workers was expected, claimed LDF. The government has also decided not to extend prohibitory orders, in place for many months to curb the spread of coronavirus, to make way for the agitational programmes.

Two days after the gold smuggling case linked to the United Arab Emirates consulate in the state capital surfaced, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a central agency probe. Later, the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing a smuggling case for the first time.

Now, at least five Central agencies are involved in investigations, making the rounds of the state secretariat, alleging kickbacks in pet government projects besides unravelling the gold smuggling network’s deep tentacles within the official machinery. Initially, the state government supported the central agencies, but it started feeling the heat when they started sniffing around some of the government’s pet projects including Life Mission and Kfone.

“Central agencies are in a race to discredit the government and question its policy decisions. State government officials have been summoned frequently and they are trying to sabotage some of the pet projects. We will not allow this to happen,” said chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Recently, the government also withdrew the general consent given to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

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But the opposition Congress and BJP criticised the government’s move to rein in central agencies. “The government is scared that the agencies will dig out more corrupt deals. The CM’s office is reduced to a den of smugglers and party office to a narcotics hub,” said BJP state president K Surendran. He also questioned CPI(M) central leaders’ silence over gold smuggling and narcotics cases.

When the government was struggling with the gold smuggling case, party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri was arrested in Bengaluru in connection with a drug haul and later the ED raided his house in the state capital. The powerful state secretary was later forced to proceed on leave. A cornered party is blaming the central agencies for its predicament.

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The Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) communiqué to the chief secretary sent last month, seeking details of four projects including Kfone, e Mobility Hub, Smarty City and Down Town has triggered a government pushback.

While the central agency suspects payment of huge amount of commissions in these projects, the state government is apprehensive of more officers and leaders getting targeted by the ED. Matters came to a head when the assembly ethics committee sent a letter to the ED seeking explanation on the alleged interference with the government’s policy decisions.

Alleged irregularities in the scheme to build free dwelling units for homeless under the Life Mission project came to light when central agencies were probing the gold smuggling case. Rs one crore cash and two kg gold was found in the bank lockers of the main gold smuggling case accused, Swapna Suresh, who told agencies that this was the commission she had received for clinching a deal with an international aid agency ‘Red Crescent’, which funded the Life Mission project in Vadakancherry in Thrissur district.

Later, a news channel controlled by the CPI(M) came out with more revelations claiming Rs 4 crore was paid as commission in the Rs 20 crore project. It also came to light that permission of the union government was not obtained for accepting the foreign contribution. The anti-corruption unit of the CBI had registered a case last month under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). But the state government maintains that it does not come under the purview of the FCRA and later the high court had stayed the case.

“Some of these agencies are jumping their briefs to target the government. They want to discredit the state but we will continue with our people- friendly developmental works,” said State law minister A K Balan, adding, an elected government can’t be intimidated like this.

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