Kerala bar scam: Babu takes back resignation, Mani says no hurry

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 30 (IANS) K. Babu, who resigned as Kerala’s excise minister after a court ordered a case against him for allegedly accepting a Rs.50 lakh bribe to permit bars to continue to function, on Saturday took back his resignation following pressure from the ruling Congress-led UDF. The opposition CPI-M termed it a “perfectly scripted act” by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.

Babu got a reprieve on Thursday when the Kerala High Court put on hold the lower court directive.

The United Democratic Front leadership also asked former finance minister K.M. Mani, who quit in November last year over allegation that he took bribe from bar owners to reopen closed bars, to return as he too got a favourable order from the high court.

However, Mani said he was “in no hurry to return”.

Talking to reporters in Kochi, Babu said: “I became an MLA on a Congress ticket and then became a minister in the UDF government headed by Oommen Chandy in 2011.

“As soon as my name surfaced in the Thrissur vigilance court about a baseless bribery allegation, without even waiting to read the judgment, I put in my papers and vacated my official residence and returned my official car.

“I also attended a farewell given to me by my staff, but today (Saturday), my party and the UDF said the situation that prevailed during my resignation no longer exists, hence I am taking back my resignation, because that’s what my party and the UDF wants,” Babu said.

Babu resigned on January 23, soon after the vigilance court ordered a case to be registered against him after the vigilance department asked for a month’s time to submit a verification report.

Whistleblower bar owner Biju Ramesh had earlier filed a complaint that he gave Babu Rs.50 lakh as bribe to permit bars to continue to function.

Earlier this week, on Babu’s petition, the high court not only suspended the Thrissur vigilance court order for two months but also pointed out that the lower court appeared to be in a hurry, as the case was also being heard in the high court.

Babu was forced to reconsider his decision at a leadership meeting of the UDF held at Chandy’s official residence on Saturday.

The UDF leadership meeting also asked Mani to return, but he refused.

“I am thankful to the UDF for reposing absolute faith in me, but at the moment I am in no hurry to return. I will discuss this new request in my party,” Mani told reporters in Kottayam.

CPI-M state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said what people were seeing was a “perfectly scripted act” by Chandy.

“He knows that he (Chandy) is tainted, so he wants Babu to return. The high court has not exonerated either of them, it has only stayed the lower court’s order for two months,” said Balakrishnan.

The bar scam first surfaced in October 2014 when Ramesh alleged that the then finance minister Mani was given Rs.1 crore as bribe by Kerala’s bar owners to facilitate reopening of the 418 closed bars in the state. Later, he alleged Babu too had taken bribe.

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