| 13 November, 2015
KM Mani, finance minister in the Congress-led United Democratic Front government in Kerala, resigned on Diwali Day under the most disgraceful circumstances. The previous day, the Kerala High Court refused interim stay of the Special Vigilance Court order for further probe into the bar licence bribery case against Mani. Justice B Kemal Pasha of the High Court reminded Mani, who is also the minister for law, of the fundamental principle that justice must not only be done but should be seen to having been done and that this principle is applicable not only to the judiciary but also to the other pillars of the State.
Quoting Shakeaspeare, he said, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion,” and left it to Mani to act according to his conscience. His conscience told him to cling to office until pronounced guilty by a court of law. Since his continuation in office became untenable after the High Court strictures, Chief Minister Oomman Chandy issued Mani an ultimatum to resign or face dismissal. Being the senior-most in the Cabinet and leader of the Kerala Congress having nine members in the Assembly, Mani tried to bring down the government by holding out the threat of withdrawing support. Only when he realised that except for Thomas Unniyadan, chief government whip, other MLAs of his party were opposed to the idea, that he relented and sent his resignation letter which said: “I am resigning as a sign of my respect for rule of law,” to the Chief Minister.
If Mani had any genuine respect for the rule of law, he should have resigned in October last when Biju Ramesh, working president of Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association, disclosed that the finance minister had demanded a bribe of Rs .5 crore and accepted Rs 1 crore in advance for the renewal of bar licences. The State Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, on a complaint by the CPI-M leader of the opposition and former Chief Minister, VS Achuthanandan, registered an FIR against Mani and ordered an inquiry. Investigating officer R Sukesh, SP, in his ‘quick verification report’ found that Rs 15 lakh had been paid to Mani at his official residence in Thiruvananthapuram on 22 March 2014, Rs. 35 lakh at his office in the Secretariat on 2 April 2014 and Rs. 50 lakh at his private residence in Palai on 31 March 2014. At the behest of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau director Vinson M Paul, Sukesh, in his final report, sought closure of the case. The Special Vigilance Court rejected the closure report and ordered further investigation. Challenging the order, VACB approached the High Court and came a cropper. The bar licence bribe case has badly tarnished the image of the UDF government.
The above is one of the few cases that a politician is found gulity so fast.
But what happened to the Rs 1.0 crore bribe money.
Has it been taken back from him with penalty?