Palarivattom flyover case: LDF, UDF clash over Ibrahim Kunju’s arrest

The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition on Wednesday clashed over the arrest of former Kerala Minister and IUML leader Ibrahim Kunju on suspicion of corruption in the construction of the now decommissioned flyover bridge at Palarivattom in Kochi.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala rallied behind Mr. Kunju. He alleged Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had “prevailed” on the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to arrest the IUML leader for diverting public attention from the multiple investigations by Central law enforcement agencies into the “criminal profiteering and nepotism” at the apex of the government.

So far, the Pinarayi government had prosecuted three UDF legislators in a bid to change the current political narrative to the advantage of the LDF in the local body polls in December. More were on its “hit-list”, he alleged.

Mr. Vijayan had “attempted to use the power of the State” against political opponents. He had threatened to throw the book at several UDF leaders based on “invented charges”.

The Crime Branch had arrested Kasargode MLA M.C. Kamaruddin of the IUML on “trumped-up” charges of cheating after his business crashed.

The VACB was investigating Azhikode MLA K.M. Shaji, also of the IUML, on a “politically motivated complaint”. LDF convener A. Vijayaraghavan had threatened to jail at least 12 UDF legislators in the run-up to the Assembly elections in mid-2021.

Chandy attacks LDF

Former Chief Minister and Congress Working Committee member Oommen Chandy claimed Mr. Kunju had merely “extended an advance fund” to the builder to expedite the construction of the bridge to ease traffic congestion in Kochi.

Such administrative action was the norm for most governments. Moreover, the LDF had not black listed the contractor and continued to engage the firm for carrying out other public works, he charged.

Mr. Chandy said the LDF had “foisted the case” on Mr. Kunju by shrugging off a suggestion by the High Court to conduct a load test on the flyover to gauge its safety.

IUML leaders meet

The IUML leadership met in Malappuram to take stock of the situation. IUML leader P. K. Kunhalikutty said that Mr. Kunju's arrest was a “plot by the government” to divert public attention away from its own “failings”. Mr. Kunhalikutty said Mr. Kunju had merely given administrative sanction for the project. He had answered the summons issued by the VACB and replied to their questions. There was no legal ground to arrest Mr. Kunju, he claimed and added that the UDF leader was the victim of a “political witch-hunt”.

BJP slams both fronts

Bharatiya Janata Party State president K. Surendran said the Enforcement Directorate's investigation into a money laundering charge against Mr. Kunju had blown the lid off the Palarivattom corruption case. Mr. Vijayan had no recourse but to arrest Mr. Kunju.

The UDF and the LDF were engaged in a “friendly contest” in Kerala. Both had “covered-up each other's corruption” for along. The entry of the BJP into the political fray was a game-changer. Mr. Surendran claimed the top IUML leadership were the “final beneficiaries” of the Palarivattom case.

Mr. Vijayaraghavan said multiple agencies had examined the flyover construction and found it to be “flawed and a threat to public safety”. The government had submitted the expert committee reports in front of the Supreme Court, which sanctioned the demolition of the bridge. Mr. Vijayaraghavan said the decommissioned flyover was a “testimony to the entrenched corruption” in the previous UDF government. The UDF was defending Mr. Kunju out of “political compulsion than conviction”.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 5:40:35 AM |

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