Amid central investigating agencies turning their focus on Kerala, especially the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case, to find any possible leads that could help “corner” the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has lashed out at the agencies “exceeding their jurisdiction.”
"The various central investigating agencies probing the gold smuggling case are exceeding their jurisdiction in a concerted effort to malign and destabilise the constitutionally elected government in the state," Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Monday, adding that neither he nor his government were against any proper investigation in any matter.
Vijayan said the state government would make necessary interventions in the matter within the existing legal framework.
Central investigation agencies have often been criticised by political parties as well as political commentators "for acting in a prejudiced manner", particularly in Opposition-ruled states or against Opposition leaders.
However, in Kerala, the Chief Minister has gone a step further and accused central agencies of encroaching upon the executive authority of the state government and constitutional bodies.
"It is a violation of their own jurisdiction and thereby an encroachment of the Constitution. This is undemocratic and unconstitutional and cannot be allowed,” Vijayan said.
Recently, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) initiated by the state government, including the KFON project, in connection with matters related to ongoing case. KFON has come under ED’s radar following the arrest of M Sivashankaran, former IT secretary, on his alleged questionable links.
The Kerala Fiber Optic Network or KFON project is a mega infrastructure project that aims to build a high-speed, reliable and scalable fibre network across the state to provide connectivity to 30,000 government institutions and 20 lakh households through the transmission and distribution facility of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).
Both KSEB and the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL) have the shares of 50% each in KFON. The 52,746 km-long fibre optic cables are being laid using the poles of KSEB. Sivashankaran has been linked to this Rs 1,548 crore project.
Sources close to the matter, however, do not rule out a “conspiracy” by private service providers, since it is the state government that has promised to provide internet facility via KFON at an affordable price to every citizen in Kerala, leaving private service providers unhappy.
In Kerala, which became the first state that declared access to internet as a basic human right, private sector Vodafone-Idea is a leading service provider with 51.9% market share, Jio has 22.6% market share, while public sector BSNL’s share is 12.6%.
Incidentally, Jio Fiber, a broadband service from Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio group, plans to expand its network across the country, including in Kerala. KFON, therefore, poses a challenge to these private broadband service providers.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said the KFON project would be implemented at any cost and the government would not surrender its authority and the right to take policy decisions.
"Attempts are being made to derail the project, which would be done by laying 52,000 km-long optical fibre cables across Kerala. I would like to make it clear that no matter what, it will be implemented in the state," he said.
Since the initial days of the gold smuggling case, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is ruling at the Centre, and the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, have been alleging the chief minister’s office of having links with the smuggling case. There have also been allegations that the case has ‘terror links’, with the BJP trying to portray the state government as “anti-national”.
Commenting on the central investigating agencies’, Vijayan said the state government had a legitimate expectation while seeking a comprehensive and independent probe in the gold smuggling case and had offered all assistance. He said he did not intend to blame any agency or official, but expressed serious concern that the professional standards of the probe agencies were being “subverted” and the investigations diverted "to suit certain vested interests."
In an apparent reference to the press meet by senior BJP leader and Union Minister V Muraleedharan at New Delhi in connection with the gold smuggling case, Vijayan said: "People outside the agency are announcing the next step of the investigation through the media and the agencies act as per the announcement.”
Also, a comment from Shivashankar about being “pressured” to give statements raises the question whether the Centre is misusing the investigative agencies to target the LDF government in the state.
"There is also a situation where parts of the statements given to the agencies are selectively leaked to the media," said Vijayan.
The Chief Minister said central agencies scrutinising the policies and decisions of a constitutionally elected state government would only destroy the federal structure, which would lead to the breakdown of governance.
Investigative agencies should not indulge in activities that demoralise bureaucrats and undermine the political leadership, Vijayan said and questioned: "How does a statement, given under oath, appear in the media? What is the reason for leaking parts of the statements to the media in line with certain agendas? An investigation appearing to be moving in a scripted manner is a setback to the democratic system."
(With Inputs from PTI)