Thiruvananthapuram: The treasury and opposition benches on Wednesday shouted slogans against each other in the Kerala assembly over the 1999 palm oil import case in which Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is a witness.
The issue was raised by the Left opposition on the penultimate day of the assembly session, seeking leave for an adjournment motion in the palm oil import case.
The import of 15,000 tonnes of palm oil was undertaken in 1992 by then chief minister K. Karunakaran. A case was registered in 1999 when the Communists led by E.K. Nayanar were in power, under the premise that it caused a loss of Rs.232 crore to the state exchequer.
On Tuesday, the Thrissur vigilance court upheld a discharge petition filed by two retired bureaucrats and acquitted them in the case.
For the Left opposition, a remark by Judge S.S. Vasan that the then finance minister Oommen Chandy was aware of the files related to the import of palm oil became ammunition for the Left opposition in the assembly on Wednesday.
CPI-M legislator Raju Abraham, who moved the leave for the adjournment motion, said when the case came up before the high court and the Supreme Court, the courts had said that if anything new comes up against the 23rd witness — in this case, Chandy — the case can be taken up again.
Tuesday’s remark by the vigilance court judge was “quite clear”, he said in the assembly.
Dismissing this remark, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said one should understand the difference between a judgment and an observation made by the judiciary.
“The court, while hearing cases to elicit information, asks questions and makes statements, and the final document is the judgment and its contents,” Chennithala said.
“But here, what happens all the time is that (the court’s) observations are blown up and the common man is forced to believe the observations and not the judgment,” he said.
“In yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) remarks, there is nothing… please understand that the trial is only going to begin in April and you have jumped to conclusions based on observations,” he added.
As soon as Chandy got up to make his position clear, the entire opposition began shouting slogans.
Amidst the vociferous slogan shouting, Chandy said what the court did on Tuesday by discharging two officials, was precisely what he tried to do in 2005 and 2013.
As the then chief minister, he said he approached the courts to write off the case as it was not related to corruption, which was also said by the vigilance court.
“Please understand that this case was registered by Nayanar and when V.S. Achuthanandan was the chief minister (2006-11), he did nothing and later he approached the high court and the apex court,” Chandy said.
“The apex court had come out with a very strong statement that this case is being kept alive for political reasons and meant to create a smokescreen,” Chandy noted.
The chief minister said the opposition only wants to raise the issue “to mislead and they do not have the courtesy to even hear what we have to say”.
When Leader of Opposition Achuthanandan rose to speak, the entire treasury benches started shouting slogans.
Despite a plea by the speaker to remain quiet, members on the treasury benches went on till the chef minister completed his speech.
Then chief vigilance commissioner P.J. Thomas quit the post as he too is an accused in the case. So is present chief secretary Jiji Thomson and Congress leader and then food minister T.H. Mustafa.