Kerala solar scam: Congress on defensive as scandal report made public

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Bengaluru: Kerala’s top Congress leaders in the previous government handed out lucrative contracts and subsidies to a dubious solar power company in return for bribes and sexual favours, the report of a judicial commission which investigated the scandal showed.

The Communist party-led government, on Thursday, presented the full report of the commission at a special assembly session, which went into details on how Congress ministers, parliamentarians and other leaders in the 2011-16 United Democratic Front (UDF) colluded with the founders of Team Solar, a company which dealt with installing solar panels.

Previous Congress chief minister and senior party leader Oommen Chandy met Saritha S. Nair, one of the founders of the company at the centre of the controversy, at least four times, according to the report. He allegedly demanded a bribe of Rs2.16 crore for awarding subsidies, contracts and other favours, out of which Rs32 lakh was accepted, and later sought sexual favours too, the report said.

The report also describes Saritha’s relationships with 10 Congress leaders of the time, including former ministers, parliamentarians, senior party office bearers and two police officers, in return for favours from their offices. It also lists 35 phone calls made by state ministers to Saritha before she made the allegations of a sexual nature public in 2013. The allegations of sex scandal are important but no real investigation was made to ascertain their merits, partly because of the varying stands taken by Saritha from time to time, the report said. She used the insinuations only to hide her company’s financial irregularities, the report said.

All Congress leaders—now in opposition—have denied the allegations. Last month, the government had decided to book all individuals named in the report under corruption charges.

Presenting the four-volume, 1,073-page report compiled after interviewing 714 witnesses and studying 812 documents, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that as per the report Chandy is guilty of corruption and former home minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, along with senior police officers, tried to protect him from being indicted in the case in the initial stages.

The session witnessed some heated moments as the Congress, tried to corner chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan for disclosing portions of the report before it was tabled in the assembly.

In response, Vijayan said that in a press meet on 11 October, he only revealed the decisions taken in a cabinet meeting regarding further action on the committee’s findings. If the Congress was in power, they would have done the same, he said.

Later, speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan said the chief minister’s reply was satisfactory and there is no procedural lapse from the part of the government.

Further, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala expressed doubts on the credibility of the commission and said it has gone beyond its brief in the investigation. But the speaker refused to admit his plea for an adjournment motion to discuss these issues. “We challenged the government to prove these allegations,” Chennithala later told reporters, “This is a political conspiracy without any shreds of evidence.”

In a statement to the press, Chandy said that he will quit politics if the allegations are found true.

He also questioned the commission’s conduct, saying it not only went beyond its given terms of reference but has also merely repeated Saritha’s allegations than investigating them. “Is this a report of solar commission or Saritha commission,” he asked.

The core group of the Congress met twice on Thursday to discuss the retaliation strategy and largely, all party leaders put a ring of defence around Chandy. However, former president of Congress Kerala unit, V.M. Sudheeran, who is known to have frosty ties with Chandy, said the party cannot take the report lightly. “The findings are of serious nature,” he said.

Meanwhile, Saritha alleged on Thursday that Chennithala had asked her to make public the submissions made before the commission against Chandy. This was during the campaign of assembly election last year, in order to curtail chances of people close to Chandy getting tickets to contest, she said.

Chennithala has refuted the allegations, however, Saritha claimed evidence of phone call made to her by Chennithala’s team.