Kerala bar scam: HC suspends lower court order against minister

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 28 (IANS) Kerala’s Excise Minister K. Babu, who resigned after a lower court ordered a case against him for allegedly accepting a Rs.50 lakh bribe to permit bars to continue to function, got a reprieve on Thursday when the Kerala High Court put on hold the lower court directive.

On Babu’s petition, the high court bench of Justice T. Ubaid 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.

The high court, however, directed the vigilance probe team to go ahead with its quick verification.

Babu’s resignation came 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 a bribe to permit bars to continue to function.

Reacting to the high court order on THursday, Babu broke down and thanked god.

“God is great. Today has been a day of major developments, not just for me. Anyway, my decision to resign has not changed, now I will have to discuss with my senior leaders,” said Babu, wiping tears from his eyes.

Babu’s resignation is, however, yet to be handed over by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to Governor P. Sathasivam.

“The case against Babu has been stayed,” a beaming Chandy told reporters at Malappuram, when asked why was he delaying forwarding Babu’s resignation letter to the governor.

Babu had earlier claimed this was the result of a conspiracy hatched by the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist and Biju Ramesh, who owns nine bars in the state capital.

The bar scam surfaced in October 2014 when Biju Ramesh alleged that the state’s then finance minister K.M. Mani was given Rs.1 crore as bribe by Kerala’s bar owners to facilitate reopening of the 418 closed bars in the state.

The relief for Babu comes at a time when the same vigilance court on Thursday asked for a first information report to be registered against Chandy and Power Minister Aryadan Mohammed following a disclosure by Saritha Nair, one of the main accused in the solar panel scam, that she paid Rs.1.9 crore in two instalments to Chandy and Rs.40 lakh to Mohammed.

Sources told IANS the Kerala government will approach the high court on Friday seeking its intervention in this case too.

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