Seven months into governance and it looks like everything is not all right with the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala, which rode to power last May on the slogan “LDF will come and everything will be all right”. The government led by CPM strongman Pinarayi Vijayan is courting controversy after controversy in quick succession. Within three months of coming to power, Industries Minister and right hand man of the CM, E.P. Jayarajan, had to quit following charges of nepotism. The man who replaced him, M.M. Mani, is one of the main accused in a political murder in Idukki district. Though Mani’s role in the murder is not proved, he had, at a public meeting, boasted that the party had murdered its political rivals in the tea gardens of the district. Another minister, J. Mercykutty Amma, is facing investigation from the state vigilance department for allegedly allowing a firm to buy cashews at an inflated price, rejecting bids that were far more reasonable, thereby costing the exchequer a loss of over Rs 10 crore. Now the state government is in direct confrontation with its IAS officers, who had threatened to take casual leave en masse early this week in protest against the “high-handedness” of the state vigilance director Jacob Thomas. Though the Chief Minister, apparently after some hard talk, managed to avert the strike, discontent is simmering. The officers, who have ganged up against the vigilance director, allege that the government is shielding Jacob Thomas. According to them, Thomas is using his official capacity to settle scores with IAS officers.
The latest provocation follows the filing of an FIR by the vigilance department in court regarding charges against former minister E.P. Jayarajan favouring relatives in appointment of key posts in the government. In the FIR, the vigilance department has made Paul Antony, additional chief secretary in the industries department, third accused. Prima facie, Antony had just signed on the file regarding the appointment of one Sudhir Nambiar, who happens to be the nephew of the then minister. Antony, who was the chairman of the Cochin Port Trust, returned to the state service only after the LDF came to power. He is known for his honesty and integrity. Once named in the FIR, Antony has become party to the case and will remain accused till the court judgement is delivered, which in the normal course will take years. Earlier, the vigilance department had arrested Padmakumar, managing director of Malabar Cements, a state enterprise, overruling objections raised by the chief secretary, industry secretary and legal secretary. As per government Rules of Business, each department comes under the specific minister. Each minister is responsible and answerable for all the decisions taken regarding departments that come under his or her ministry. This applies to appointments too. Hence, how can Antony be held responsible for the appointment, asks the IAS body. Moreover, Antony had made a noting that the particular file should be shown to the Chief Minister also. However, this was not done by the minister or the Chief Minister feigned ignorance on such a decision. That is the reason the Opposition is demanding a probe into the role of Pinarayi Vijayan in the case too. Earlier, there was a Public Enterprises Board to select officers to top posts in various enterprises. This has been discontinued, and instead a Public Enterprises Restructuring and Internal Audit Board (RIAB) has been constituted. Though RIAB has been authorised to make such appointments, no one followed its decisions. Moreover, since the emoluments are not so attractive in state enterprises, it could not attract much talent either.
In this situation, at the meeting called to resolve the IAS officers’ tangle, Pinarayi Vijayan openly chided the chief secretary, S.M. Vijayanand, asking him whether he was trying to behave like a Super Chief Minister. A hurt Vijayanand, who is a 1981 batch IAS officer of Kerala cadre, immediately offered to resign if the CM did not have enough faith in him. The real reason for the CM’s outburst is that the chief secretary had made some enquiries regarding complaints by the IAS body against vigilance director Jacob Thomas. The CM’s behaviour towards the chief secretary in front of junior officers gave credence to the belief that the LDF government was overprotective of the vigilance director who was handpicked by Pinarayi Vijayan. Jacob Thomas, who assumed charge with much fanfare by displaying green and yellow cards and vowed to eradicate corruption in no time, has been dragging his feet when it comes to charges against CPM ministers. This has led to much public ridicule, not to speak from Opposition parties, mainly the BJP.
The FIR against the former minister was filed only after the court intervened and questioned the delay in the case. The IAS organisation has come out with charges of malpractices by Jacob Thomas in many of his previous positions. However, the government has totally ignored these charges. The end result is that government decisions get more and more tangled in the corridors of the state secretariat. IAS officers are reluctant to put their signatures on any documents, especially if it concerns matters of finance. Department secretaries have officially informed the government of this decision. “Query” is the magic word, as files play ping pong, while the government stands a mute witness to the crippling of governance.