Kerala Lok Ayukta rejects plea alleging misuse of CMDRF by CM Vijayan
Thiruvananthapuram | In relief for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the Kerala Lok Ayukta on Monday rejected a plea alleging that the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) was misused by him and his cabinet colleagues during the tenure of the previous Left government.
The plea was dismissed by a three-member bench of Lok Ayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph and Upa-Lok Ayuktas Justices Babu Mathew P Joseph and Harun-Ul-Rashid.
Each member of the bench, in separate verdicts, gave their own reasons for dismissing the plea.
Lok Ayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph said that though the decisions under challenge were arbitrary in nature, there was not sufficient material to conclude that they were taken only on account of political considerations.
"In spite of my finding that the decision making process was defective, I am not satisfied that by taking the impugned decisions respondent Nos 2 to 18 (CM and other ministers of previous government) have abused their position as public servant to obtain any gain or favour for themselves or for any other person or to cause undue harm or hardship to any other person.
"It has not been substantiated that respondent Nos 2 to 18 were actuated in the discharge of their function as public servant by personal interest or improper or corrupt motive. There is no material or evidence to hold that respondent Nos 2 to 18 are guilty of corruption, favouritism, nepotism or lack of integrity in their capacity as public servant," he said.
The allegations in the complaint are not substantiated, he added and dismissed it.
Justice Cyriac Joseph, in his order, however, stated that the complaint against the CM and the other ministers of the previous LDF government was maintainable.
He said that merely because the decision was taken by the CM and the ministers jointly in a meeting of the cabinet, "they cannot claim immunity from investigation under the provisions of the Act".
"There is no provision in the Act which exempts or excludes the action of the chief minister or ministers from investigation on the ground that the action was taken as a member of the cabinet.
"It is illogical to argue that the action taken by the individual can be investigated, but when the very same action is taken by him along with other individuals, it cannot be investigated. It goes against the very spirit and object of the Act," Justice Cyriac Joseph said.
However, the Upa-Lok Ayuktas differed with him on this aspect as they were of the view that the Lok Ayukta does not have the jurisdiction to investigate the actions or decisions of the cabinet or council of ministers as they are collective bodies.
They said that under the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act of 1999, only individual public servants can be investigated.
"The issue as to whether there is irregularity, illegality, unreasonableness or arbitrariness in extending financial aid to the beneficiaries are matters beyond the scope and ambit of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act for want of jurisdiction.
"The impropriety of a decision, if any, taken by the council of ministers, which is a constitutional body, stands outside the purview of the Lok Ayukta Act. The complaint fails and is accordingly dismissed," the Upa-Lok Ayuktas said in their respective judgments.
Justice Cyriac Joseph also said there was no merit in the contention of the state that the decisions in question were policy decisions of the cabinet and hence, they cannot be investigated.
"They were not policy decisions. They were only administrative decisions in individual cases.
"In the light of the above discussion, I hold that the action of respondent Nos 2 to 18 (CM and earlier state ministers) in taking the earlier mentioned three decisions can be investigated by the Lok Ayukta under the provisions of the Act, despite the fact that the decisions were taken by them as members of the cabinet," he said.
The decision came on a plea by complainant R S Sasikumar who had alleged that the CM and his council of ministers, during the first Pinarayi Vijayan government's tenure, had "abused their position as public servants, that they were actuated by personal interest and corrupt motives and that they were guilty of corruption, favouritism and nepotism".
Reacting to the verdict, Sasikumar said, "It is not surprising".
He alleged that the decision was "an expression of dishonesty".
Sasikumar said he would appeal to the Kerala High Court and, if required, even to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the CPI(M) state secretariat in a statement claimed that the case was another example of the false propaganda that the UDF opposition in the state and the BJP were spreading against the Left government.
It said that such complaints were politically motivated and the Left government cannot be brought down by these attempts.
In March this year, Lok Ayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice Harun-Ul-Rashid had referred the matter to a larger bench as there was a difference of opinion among them over whether the decisions of the cabinet can be subjected to its investigation, and also on the merits of the case.
The Lok Ayukta had admitted the complaint in January 2019.
The complaint by Sasikumar had alleged "favouritism" in sanctioning financial aid from the fund to NCP leader late Uzhavoor Vijayan, former CPI(M) MLA late K K Ramachandran Nair and to the family of Praveen, a civil police officer who died in an accident while undertaking escort duty for ruling CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
The complainant had sought disqualification of the Chief Minister and the other ministers for misusing the fund.