Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Monday offered to quit office on moral grounds in the light of the Thiruvananthapuram Special Vigilance Court's order for a re-investigation into his role in the palmolein case during his tenure as Finance Minister in the 1991-95 Karunakaran Ministry. But the United Democratic Front leaders prevailed upon him to reconsider his move.
The frontline UDF leaders, after a two-hour confabulation on the political and legal fallout of the verdict, ruled out Mr. Chandy's resignation as he had not been named an accused in the case and that the reinvestigation had been ordered without any new evidence in the case. By late evening, it became certain that the Chief Minister would shed the Vigilance portfolio in view of the court order. The decision is likely to be announced after the Congress party's political affairs committee meeting slated to be held on Wednesday, sources said.
The court rejected the report of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau clearing Mr. Chandy in the palmolein deal that took place in February 1992. The report itself was the outcome of an earlier court direction on March 14 for continuing the probe in the case including Mr. Chandy's role. The Vigilance Bureau submitted the report to the government on May 13, on the day of counting of votes for the Assembly election.
The court rejected the contention in the report that the finance department could not be considered as responsible for the irregularities. Further investigation could not reveal the involvement of any other person, other than those who were arraigned as accused in the charge sheet already submitted, the report said.
The Vigilance Court, while ordering the reinvestigation, maintained that its earlier direction was to probe the role of the former Finance Minister and not the Finance Department.
Senior UDF and Congress leaders spent nearly two hours analysing the order. The Chief Minister, accompanied by Industry and IT Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty, Finance Minister K.M. Mani, and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala, said he would face the case legally and politically.
Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony, according to sources, called up Mr. Chandy and advised him not to take any hasty decision.