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Kerala minister Mani resigns after High Court orders further probe into bar scam

Thiruvananthapuram: In a day of hectic political parleys all day long in the Kerala capital following a Kerala High Court order to further probe the bar scam in the state, finance minister and the country’s longest serving legislator K.M. Mani on Tuesday resigned over his alleged involvement in the matter.

Addressing reporters at his official residence, the 82-year-old Mani said that being the state’s law minister, “I have to respect the law and hence I have resigned”.

“I have already informed the chief minister (Oommen Chandy) of my decision to resign. Through a special messenger, I will send my resignation to the CM,” he said.

“I take this opportunity to thank the CM and all other leaders who extended support to me.”

“We also wish to state that we will continue to support the United Democratic Front government,” said Mani.

The case began in October 2014 when bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged that Mani was given Rs.1 crore as bribe by Kerala’s bar owners to see that the 418 closed bars in the state are reopened.

Following a letter by Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan to the vigilance director, the Kerala government ordered a vigilance probe against Mani.

Following a quick verification, a case was registered naming Mani as the accused.

After seven months of investigation, the vigilance department found there was not enough evidence against Mani and they had filed a closure report in the vigilance court that last month quashed the clean chit. It ordered a further probe, which was upheld on Monday by the Kerala High Court.

Speaking to reporters after accepting the resignations of both Mani and his party colleague and government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan, Chief Minister Chandy told reporters that right from the time the case surfaced in October 2014, the UDF was certain that Mani has done no wrong.

“But now with a reference made by the court, the decision to resign was taken by Mani himself and it was meant to uphold the democratic principles.

“Even now, we feel Mani has done no wrong. Contrary to news reports there has been no pressure from my side or from any of the UDF allies and reports that the Congress high command intervened is also baseless,” Chandy said.

The chief minister added that he was certain that Mani will come out unscathed.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Chandy said there was no threat to his government.

“There is no threat to my government at all. We started four and a half years back with a majority of just two and see we have come till now… in the remaining period also, we will sail smoothly and united,” he said.

Mani’s resignation comes after the Kerala High Court on Monday upheld the Special Vigilance Court’s direction, asking for further probe in the bar scam case in which money is alleged to have taken bribes.

Mani has not lost a single assembly election since he first became a legislator in 1967 from Pala in Kottayam district. He has been a minister in various cabinets for more than two decades.

On Tuesday morning, the Kerala Congress supremo’s official residence in the state capital was buzz with activity.

After a five-hour meeting of the steering committee of Kerala Congress (Mani), the third biggest ally of the ruling Congress-led UDF, took place on Tuesday, Mani reportedly tried to put pressure on the Chandy government, knowing very well that if he along with his seven legislators put their feet down, the government will collapse.

But things did not work the way Mani wished, as his party’s working chairman and cabinet colleague, Irrigation Minister P.J. Joseph, and two other legislators informed Chandy late on Tuesday evening that they will not resign with Mani.

Finding no support from the other allies or from the Congress, Mani asked government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan, a three-time legislator, also to put in his papers.

“Yes, we both are going to resign and the decision will be informed to the UDF. I do not know if Joseph is going to resign, but I am resigning to give my support to Mani. But we will continue to be in the UDF,” Unniyadan told the media, before Mani made his announcement.

Joseph later said Mani has already clarified that their party was “united”.

“Mani will decide if there is going to be a new minister. All such decisions will be made by him,” said Joseph.

(IANS)

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