Kerala Finance minister T M Thomas Isaac will be appearing before the Ethics Committee of State Legislative Assembly after the opposition Congress moved a privilege notice against him. This is an unusual development as it is the first in the state's history that a breach of privilege notice against a minister is being referred to the committee for scrutiny.
The notice was moved by V D Satheeshan, Congress MLA, under Section 159 of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business, against the minister. The recent decision was made after State Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan forwarded the privilege notice along with the reply filed by the minister, for the consideration of the privilege and ethics committee.
“This is probably the first time after the formation of the state, such an issue has come up. The Minister has pointed out that this was not just a matter of breach of privilege of the Assembly but there are certain unprecedented situations. Let the committee decide after hearing both sides,” Sreeramakrishnan said.
Satheeshan alleged that Isaac, a central committee member of CPI(M), violated on the rights of the House by disclosing the details of a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit report against the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) before it was tabled in the House.
"As per the rules, the CAG report should be tabled at the House. A person of Thomas Issac's expertise is well aware that revealing its content before tabling is a breach of privilege of the house. He did this for political gains to avert the damage ahead of the State Assembly elections," Satheeshan told News18.com.
Isaac, who appeared before the Speaker on Monday to explain his stand, said he welcomed the decision.
Why this gains importance?
The speaker's decision gains significance as it came after the Finance minister ate his words after the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) raided 40 branches of the Kerala State Financial Enterprise (KSFE). The VACB which comes under the state home department is a portfolio held by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and KSFE is a state-owned non-banking financial firm under the Finance Department.
The VACB conducted a raid named 'Operation Bachat' (savings) as its internal intelligence wing allegedly detected anomalies in handling chitty deposits. The intelligence report was submitted to the Vigilance director Sudesh Kumar on November 10 which revealed serious irregularities by KSFE authorities including fund diversion by branch managers, money laundering and bogus chit funds. It also alleged that the staff and managers were indulging in benami operations and auctions of chits.
However, Isaac questioned the propriety of the raid at the KSFE, one of the profit-making PSUs in the state, terming it as "someone's craziness".
A few CPI(M) leaders, who initially came out against the raid, soon became silent as the Chief Minister slammed the minister's remarks. "This is no one's madness, but vigilance's right,' Pinarayi Vijayan told media on Monday, referring to the raids and Isaac's outburst.
As Chief Minister dismissed the conspiracy theories on the raid, party leaders endorsed his views and rejected Isaac’s stance on the issue.
The CPI(M) state secretariat held a meeting on Tuesday in which Isaac explained his stance, stating he should have been made aware of the raids. The party, however, sided with CM's version of raids as "routine inspections". "A few responses about the vigilance inspection have led to misunderstanding and negative campaigning. These remarks were made against the attempts to defame KSFE. Such open remarks should have been avoided," said its statement, without naming the Finance Minister.
Following the party stance, three senior CPI(M) ministers G Sudhakaran, E P Jayarajan and Kadakampally Surendran rallied behind the Chief Minister with their explanations on the surprise raids and issued comments portraying Issac in a poor light.
Moreover, Issac suffered another jolt after CPI(M) acting state secretary, A Vijayarghavan termed the controversy as a closed chapter. He said the party had discussed in detail and clarified its position after Issac said he would raise his complaint within the party forum once the local body elections over.
What is happening with the ethics committee?
The nine-member Privileges and Ethics Committee of Kerala Legislative Assembly headed by CPI(M) leader A Pradeep Kumar will meet on Friday to look into the issue. According to Kumar, the proceedings will be decided in the meeting.
Six members of the committee VKC Mammadu Koya, DK Murali, John Fernandez, George M Thomas CPI and ET Tyson (CPI) are from LDF while the former Ministers VS Sivakumar (Congress-I), Mons Joseph (Kerala Congress) and Anoop Jacob (Kerala Congress) are from UDF.
The committee has two options. First, it can suggest the Speaker that there is no action needed, based on the explanations, against the minister. Second, it can recommend action against the minister to Speaker. However, the Assembly will decide on this.