"The HC's order comes at a time when the investigation has reached a turning point. There is a total 13 corruption cases against the Corporation," says activist K.P. Vijayakumar
The Kerala High Court’s interim stay on investigation into two corruption cases involving a former Mayor, ex-members, and officials of the Kozhikode Corporation brings temporary relief to the accused.
On December 20, acting on separate writ petitions filed by a former Corporation secretary, a single Bench of Justice Harun-ul-Rashid stayed the investigation for the next three months in the two cases.
“The High Court’s order comes at a time when the investigation has reached a turning point. The statements of the accused were about to be taken as part of the process of filing the chargesheets in the court. There is a total 13 corruption cases against the Corporation,” K.P. Vijayakumar, the anti-corruption activist who is pursuing the legal battle, said.
Mr. Vijayakumar said Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in November 2013 directed that chargesheets in all 13 cases should be filed in the next six months.
“This direction came after we held a six-day hunger strike here,” he said.
The two cases in question involved the alleged siphoning off funds from the local body’s Distress Relief Fund for a period of five years and the “diversion” of Rs.2.9 lakh meant for repairing the drainage of a poverty-stricken city slum at Cherottuvayal under the People’s Planning Campaign. It is alleged that the amount was used to renovate a pathway near a councillor’s residence.
In the Cherottuvayal case, the Kozhikode Enquiry Commissioner and Special Judge V. Jayaram, who is hearing both matters, had ordered a detailed investigation to “unearth the real state of affairs” on June 12, 2013. The trial judge’s order had set aside a vigilance probe report recommending that only a departmental inquiry was required in the case.
Again, the FIR in the distress relief fund case arraigns former mayor M. Bhaskaran, P. Divakaran, former chairman of the Health Standing Committee with the Corporation, and former secretaries for “abusing their official position and committing irregularities in the utilisation of relief fund during the period from 2005 to 2010 by way of non-keeping of income and expenditure statement and selection of beneficiaries, etc”.
The High Court’s intervention comes on the petition filed by Jonny Sebastian, a former corporation secretary and accused, contending that the trial court’s orders for investigation were “per se illegal”. He urged the high court to quash the FIRs of both cases.
In his petition, Mr. Sebastian argued that no prior sanction was taken from the government — a necessary pre-condition under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act — before investigation was ordered in the two cases.
“Once it is noticed that there was no previous sanction, Magistrate cannot order investigation against a public servant,” he argued.
He absolved himself of any responsibility in the distress relief fund scam, saying “all duties were assigned to the council secretary and his subordinates as per the Kerala Municipalities Act”. He termed the allegations of corruption could not be taken at face value.
“Different and distinct offences between 2005 and 2010 were clubbed together against different accused persons. This is per se illegal,” he said.
Besides, he said, the preliminary inquiry into the case was done in an irresponsible manner and the allegation of misappropriation from the distress relief fund was subsequently incorporated into the complaint.
In the Cherottuvayal case, Mr. Sebastian said he was not holding the position of Corporation secretary when the revised work estimate was approved. He denied any responsibility for any “procedural irregularities in executing the project work”.
Mr. Vijayakumar, who has been made party in the high court petitions, said a counter had been filed.