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High Court orders CBI probe in Lavalin case

Staff Reporter

Says LDF Government cannot reverse decision

KOCHI: A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Tuesday ordered an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the SNC Lavalin case.

The Bench of Chief Justice V.K. Bali and Justice J.B. Koshy issued the directive while dismissing a petition filed by the State Government seeking to withdraw the previous Government's decision to entrust the investigation to the CBI.

The case related to alleged irregularities in the award of contract for the modernisation of Pallivasal (37.5 MW), Sengulam (48 MW) and Panniyar (30 MW) hydroelectric projects to the Canada-based company SNC Lavalin. These power stations were installed between 1940 and 1964. The Kerala State Electricity Board had decided to renovate them on the ground that the generators had outlived their life.

The Government contended that when the previous Government took the decision on March 1, 2006 to entrust the investigation to the CBI, there was no application of mind and no material before the Cabinet to take a right decision.

The court observed that the mere fact that there was no note or agenda when the Cabinet took the decision was not a ground to conclude that the Government had not applied its mind. There was enough material to justify a CBI investigation, which might not be under the control of the high functionaries. Possible involvement of the high-ups could not be ruled out.

On changing stand

The Government could not be permitted to change its earlier stand. There was a marked difference between policy matters or decisions reflecting the philosophy of the party in power and day-to-day administration. There could not be any deviation simply because the party in power had changed. The decision taken by the Government for handing over the investigation to the CBI was not a policy matter; nor was it a decision reflecting the political philosophy of the United Democratic Front Government, the court said.

If decisions taken from time to time on transacting business were reversed by a party coming to power later, it would result in utter chaos.

The court also allowed the writ petitions seeking a CBI investigation in the case filed by T.P. Nandakumar, Editor, Crime, Peoples' Forum for Civil Liberties and EMS Samskarikavedi.

The judges observed that it was the admitted position that the Government had suffered a huge loss of Rs.374.5 crore. It was also an admitted position that the Malabar Cancer Centre was a non-starter. The company had offered aid to set up the centre. The Vigilance had registered the FIR after three years of investigation and, in the ultimate analysis, found only the Board officials as culprits.

It was admitted that when the contract was finalised on July 6, 1998, the Ministry was of the Left Democratic Front. It said that in a mammoth project of this nature, the contract could not be arrived at without the approval of the high-ups.

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