Stormy start to Kerala Assembly session over bar bribery allegations

Thiruvananthapuram, June 10 The 11th session of Kerala's 15th Legislative Assembly began on a stormy note on Monday, with the Congress-led opposition's protest over bar bribery allegations against the Vijayan government that surfaced last month.

The opposition has demanded an inquiry under relevant sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act into the alleged bar bribery issue.

While the one-hour question hour went off peacefully, things turned noisy when the Congress legislator Roji M. John sought leave for an adjournment motion on the bar bribery charges.

In the last week of May, an audio clip surfaced where bar owners were purportedly asked to pay Rs 2.50 lakh each for "favourable liquor policies".

However, the person who made this request in the leaked audio and the president of the bar owners association dismissed the allegation, saying that he had asked for a contribution to be made to purchase an office building in the state capital for the association.

State Excise Minister M.B. Rajesh had then asked the state police chief to launch a police probe.

On Monday John went hammer and tongs in the House and said all knew where the money collected had reached as they were there in the audio itself.

He then quoted a speech that was made on the floor of the Assembly in 2014 by the then Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan while attacking the then Excise Minister, K.M. Mani, after audio of a bar owner surfaced that spoke about the collection of money.

John slammed state Tourism Minister P.A. Mohammed Riyas (son-in-law of CM Vijayan) and said the excise policy was "hijacked" by him.

But Minister Rajesh stood his ground and said there has been no discussion on the new excise policy and hence all the charges levelled were baseless.

Joining the issue was Chief Minister Vijayan who said as soon as this allegation surfaced, the police were notified and they began their probe.

“The probe to that is going in full earnestness and every aspect will be looked into,” said CM Vijayan.

Leader of Opposition V.D. Satheesan, however, said CM Vijayan should first register a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act and then announce a judicial probe.

But with CM Vijayan unmoved, the opposition legislators started shouting slogans and trooped into the well of the House.

Amid the sloganeering, the treasury benches passed two Bills, one was the proposed delimitation of local body wards. What came as a surprise was that it was passed without being sent to the Subject Committee of the Assembly.

Soon the House was adjourned for the day and the opposition marched outside. The opposition has decided to continue with their demand, which is an inquiry under relevant sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act in the bar bribery case.

When the Vijayan government assumed office in 2016, there were 29 bars in the state, and now that figure has crossed 900 and many fresh bar license applications are likely to be cleared soon.

In the past three years, a record 130 new bars were sanctioned.

Source: IANS
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