Kerala Lokayukta refers allegations of relief fund mismanagement to a larger bench

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New Delhi (India), March 31, 2023: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his government are facing allegations of mismanaging state relief funds, which were referred to a larger bench by the Lokayukta, the anti-corruption watchdog, after a difference of opinion between two judges.

Several ministers, including Vijayan, are respondents in the case related to allegations of mishandling the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF).

Activist RS Sashi Kumar had appealed to the Kerala High Court, which last week asked the petitioner to approach the Lokayukta for a decision.

The petition alleges nepotism in the distribution of relief money, with some of the beneficiaries being the family of a CPI(M) legislator who had died, the family of a Left ally who had died, and the family of a Kerala police officer who died in an accident while accompanying CPI(M) leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

In 2019, the Kerala Lokayukta issued a notice to Vijayan and a few ministers after admitting the activist’s complaint. However, the two judges were split on whether there was any merit in the allegations, resulting in the referral to the larger bench.

“As there is a difference of opinion between us on the basic issue of whether the action of respondents…in taking the impugned decisions as members of the Cabinet can be subjected to investigation under the provisions of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999, and on the merits of the allegations raised by the complainant, we are constrained to place this complaint for investigation by the Lok Ayukta and both the Upa-Lok Ayuktas together as required under Section 7(1) of the Kerala Lok Ayukta,” the judges said.

The Lokayukta is hearing the case against Vijayan and his government at a time when a bill that tweaks the powers of the state watchdog is pending with Governor Arif Mohammed Khan. This is not the first time that Vijayan’s government has faced such allegations, as then State Higher Education Minister KT Jaleel had to quit in April 2021 after the Lokayukta verdict indicted him for misuse of official powers and nepotism.

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