Kochi: RS Gavai, Kerala governor, on Sunday gave the Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, the nod to prosecute Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPM Kerala state secretary and politburo member, in the SNC Lavlin scam.
This is overruling the Kerala cabinet decision more than a month ago not to prosecute Pinarayi after the governor had sought the cabinet opinion.
The case relates to the grant of contract to the Canadian firm SNC-Lavlin for modernization of the Pallivasal, Chengulam and Panniyar hydro-electric projects during the Left Democratic Front rule in 1998 when Pinarayi was the power minister. The Comptroller and Auditor-General, or CAG, had in its report said that the state lost Rs374.5 crore because of the deal.
The investigation into was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, despite the government taking up the issue to the supreme court level. The CBI had early this year proposed to chargesheet Pinarayi, who it named the ninth accused in the case.
Since Pinarayi was a former minister, it had to seek the consent of the governor who in turn had to get the nod from the cabinet to allow prosecution. The government had sought legal opinion from the advocate-general in the matter who ruled against prosecution which was conveyed to the governor.
The issue had become a serious point of discussion within the CPM with VS Achuthanandan, chief minister and Pinarayi’s bete noire, publicly stating on several occasions that the law should be allowed to take its own course and that the party should fight the matter both politically and legally. However, the party central leadership, even after the poll debacle in Kerala where the CPM could manage to win retain just four seats of the 20 Lok Sabha seats, had said that the Lavlin was an issue that had been discussed earlier and the party would face it politically.
It was in February 1996 during the Congress-led UDF regime that the KSEB signed an MoU with the Canadian firm for consultancy services.
But when the LDF assumed power in May the same year, Pinarayi as power minister changed the consultancy MoU to a fixed price contract for distribution of equipment and services. There were charges then that Pinarayi had a role in granting the deal to SNC-Lavlin at high rates, overlooking the low rates of state-owned BHEL. As part of the deal, the Canadian firm promised to give Rs 98 crore to the Malabar Cancer Centre at Thalassery in northern Kannur district, Pinarayi’s hometown, though the money did not come.
In 2001, an Assembly subjects committee found that the government had suffered losses on account of the agreement. The CAG report in 2005 quantified the loss at Rs374.5 crore. It had said that the entire amount spent on the renewal projects was lost as the company did not complete the renewal process and not an extra megawatt of power was generated from the three projects.
In January 2007, the Kerala high court, acting on a public interest litigation, ordered a CBI probe into the scam.
The CBI has sought the governor’s permission to file a chargesheet that accuses Vijayan and 10 others, including some officials, of receiving kickbacks for allotting a contract.
The high court had asked the state government to give its views by 11 May for which it sought the views of CP Sudhakar Prasad, the advocate-general who in his report not only gave Pinarayi a clean chit but also proposed that there need not be any prosecution proceedings.
Oommen Chandy, opposition leader, was quick to react saying that with the Governor having given permission to prosecute Pinarayi it has been proved that nobody is above the law.