In major relief to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the state High Court on Wednesday exonerated him in the SNC Lavalin case, relating to an agreement inked 20 years ago with Canadian company SNC-Lavalin when he was the state Power Minister. Delivering the judgement, Justice P. Ubaid said it was not fair that while a few state ministers had handled the power portfolio, only Vijayan was being singled out. The judge also pointed out that Vijayan was hounded by the CBI.
While exonerating Vijayan, the court pointed out that three Kerala State Electricity Board officials will have to face trial.
The case pertains to an agreement with SNC-Lavalin in 1997 to repair three generators, which allegedly caused a loss of Rs 266 crore to the state exchequer.
Vijayan was arraigned by the CBI as the seventh accused in the case, leading to political furore.
On November 5, 2013, the CBI court in the state capital exonerated all the accused, without taking the case for trial.
However a year later, the CBI filed a revision petition against the CBI court’s exoneration.
The case then went into a limbo with a few judges deciding not to hear the case. But in 2016, the trial started and Vijayan brought in high-profile lawyer Harish Salve to defend him.
Vijayan was forced to seek the service of Salve after the CBI brought in former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai as a witness in the case.
The trial in the case got over in March this year and Ubaid posted the case for delivering the judgement.
When he came to deliver the judgement at 1.45 p.m., the judge asked the media not to give out news until the judgement is read out.
In the judgement, the CBI has been taken to task for hounding Vijayan as there were other ministers also who had dealt with SNC Lavalin company.
After he was arraigned as an accused by the CBI, his party – Communist Party of India-Marxist – leadership came to his defence and said there was no reason for him to step down as Secretary of the party’s Kerala State Committee, as it was not a constitutional post.
Vijayan’s getting a clean chit can also be seen as a setback for his arch rival and former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, as the two had on a few occasions openly clashed over this case during 2006-11, which led to the suspension of both from the politburo.
While Vijayan was reinstated, Achuthanandan was not.
Reacting to the judgement, State CPI-M secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the case was a political one.
“In 2006, it was the then Congress-led UDF government which transferred the case to the CBI. This decision was taken after the State Vigilance department after a probe gave a clean chit to Vijayan. The CBI was used as a tool to target political rivals after the CPI-M withdrew its support to the first UPA government.”
He termed the judgement as a “huge setback for the CBI as it tried to target a political leader”. Balakrishnan said that it has been proved again that CPI-M is a party which does not indulge in corruption.