Violation of concept of open court in Kerala

Photo by Carptrash at the English language Wikipedia The continuing restrictions on the media from entering court premises in Kollam, Kochi and elsewhere in Kerala are in violation of Constitutional principles, common law and freedom of the press.

It undermines the concept of open justice which is one of the fundamental tenets of fair trial in common law. It is a venerated concept which is considered indispensable for fair trial. If some advocates and judges think that they can work the system without media, they are treading a dangerous path. Soon, the legitimacy of administration of justice itself will be in question.

The concept of open court, one should note, is just not of media access. It encompasses the right of public including lawyers not involved in the proceedings to be present in court. The media act as the eyes and ears of the public. Many courts across the democratic world are extending these rights by allowing copying of exhibits and even televising of proceedings.

It is surprising that some lawyers and judges are thinking in the opposite direction now. It is possibly an indicator of rot in the system. Many unhealthy trends are creeping into the administration of justice and presence of media is a hindrance to that. (This is not to say that unhealthy trends are absent in media.)

Many government pleaders these days are not always acting in the best interests of the government. Years ago, many people got favourable verdicts in forest cases since the government pleaders did not question fake documents and arguments presented by the plaintiffs. This forced the government to come up with a law for takeover of ecologically fragile lands. This led to another set of litigations which are yet to end. Besides, some innocents were harmed by forest officials in the process.

It was the environmental organisations and media, not necessarily those reporting from courts, which brought out developments like this. In the absence of media access to court proceedings, instances of liaison between lawyers appearing for government and plaintiffs in civil cases and accused in criminal cases are likely to grow.

Open justice is key to rule of law in democracies and any departure from that should be explained. However, some judicial officers have sought to limit media access to courts without proper explanations. The principle of open court ought to be upheld over concerns of friction or conflict. Lack of openness in court proceedings undermine rule of law. As philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham had pointed out open justice is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity.

Mullaperiyar: What is Pinarai Vijayan up to?


Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan

The new Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarai Vijayan has willingly courted controversy in the first week of assuming office itself over Mullaperiyar and other issues.

The essence of his statement on Mullaperiyar was that Kerala will have to take into account the finding of the empowered committee appointed by the Supreme Court that the dam was safe and future negotiations would have to be over the report of the committee and its reliability. Secondly, he said that a new dam at Mullaperiyar, which Kerala had proposed as a means to ensure safety of people of five districts in the State, was not possible without cooperation from Tamil Nadu.

Faced with strong opposition to the change in the State’s stand over Mullaperiyar, Mr. Vijayan clarified that the government was still for new dam. What he had said was that it was not possible to build a dam without cooperation from the Centre and Tamil Nadu.

There was no compulsion for Mr. Vijayan to come up with an early policy statement on Mullaperiyar as no decision was pending on the issue that needed immediate attention. He also made a statement in favour of revival of the Athirappally hydroelectric project which is strongly opposed by environmental activists and leaders of the CPI which is a constituent of the ruling coalition, the Left Democratic Front. He could have delayed taking a stand on both the issues if he wanted.

However, he apparently had political and administrative reasons for making statements on Mullaperiyar and Athirappally even at the risk of losing some goodwill. On the face of it, the statements hook his bite noire in the party V. S. Achuthanandan who had adopted stands in favour of new dam and against Athirappally project in the past. There has been a truce between Mr. Achuthanandan and Mr. Vijayan before the elections, and Mr. Achuthanandan, as Leader of the Opposition, led the campaign of the Opposition Front. However, the CPI (M) chose Mr. Vijayan as the Chief Minister.

Mr. Vijayan’s statements come at a time when the party is considering an advisory position with Cabinet rank for Mr. Achuthanandan in the Government. Mr. Vijayan’s camp has already raised the criticism that this would give rise to duel power centres. If Mr. Achuthandnan loudly opposed the policy pronouncements by Mr. Vijayan, that would be proof to support the argument. Being a seasoned politician, Mr. Achuthanandan’s reaction was measured. Yet, there is no certainty that he would get the position he desired.

In a raising a controversy, Mr. Vijayan’s political costs are limited. His party does not have much support in any of the areas that will be directly impacted by failure of Mullaperiyar dam. The sufferer is the CPI which has won seats in areas that would be hit by a failure of the Mullaperiyar dam and impacted by the Athirappally project. CPI had done a sterling performance in this election winning 70 per cent of the seats it contested. The CPI (M) knows that it would have to concede more ground to CPI as CPI comes out of political stagnation in Kerala. So, any damage done to CPI is to its advantage.

There is also speculation that the CPI (M) would like to come closer to AIADMK considering CPI (M)’s diminishing importance at the national level. It is also notable that in Devikulam constituency in Kerala, where there is a Tamil population; AIADMK secured over 11600 votes which was more than twice the margin of victory of the CPI (M) candidate in the constituency.

Apart from political objectives, Mr. Vijayan’s statement is clearly aimed at laying the path for new initiatives. Kerala has nearly exhausted its legal options on Mullaperiyar at least for the time being. The way it conducted the cases before the Supreme Court left a lot to be desired. For example, the Supreme Court made an erroneous observation in its 2006 judgement that the waters would be contained in the Idukki dam downstream in case of failure of Mullaperiyar dam. However, Kerala failed to produce the Dam Break Analysis showing that towns and villages and a large population would be washed away, in subsequent litigation in the Court. The previous government then tried to hide reports of the Analysis, which it had commissioned, and other documents relating to the litigation from public by issuing an executive order against releasing documents on Mullaperiyar under Right to Information Act.

Now, Mr. Vijayan needs an opening to drive new policy and this could not be done without admitting the status quo following the Supreme Court orders and the impossibility of building a new dam in the near future. He has to open dialogue with Tamil Nadu. Acknowledging that there is a finding that the dam is safe is first step towards that.
Water for Tamil Nadu and safety for Kerala is slogan raised by the previous government. However, with Tamil Nadu seeking legal options and rejecting the proposal for a new dam, it had only campaign value. Mr. Vijayan has not specified what policy options he would pursue now. He probably has to reconstitute the Mullaperiyar Cell, which failed in its objective, and hold discussions with experts and lawyers before proceeding.

Even before Mr. Vijayan deprecated the proposal for new dam, there was a section of those agitating against the raising of water level in the old dam who argued that the dam should be decommissioned in a phased manner. The decommissioning should be over 50 years or so allowing Tamil Nadu the opportunity to shift its agriculture practices to modern techniques that need less water for irrigation.

Water policy expert Ramaswamy R. Iyer, who was Union Secretary for Water Resources, stated as back as in 2011 that Kerala would be repeating a folly committed more than 100 years ago by building a new dam.

Opinion is growing around the world against large dams and inter-basin diversion of river waters. The Mullaperiyar dam totally cut off flow through river. International covenants now recognise lower riparian rights and the need to allow flow needed maintain ecosystems and activities downstream.

Moreover, Kerala’s stand on impact on the Periyar Tiger Reserve is contradictory. On one side, it argued that the raising of the water level would harm the Reserve. On the other side, it proposed a major construction activity and impounding of water within the protected area.

It is expected that Mr. Vijayan would look into all this and come up with a new approach to the issue.

Rape that shocked Kerala

Protest in Thiruvananthapuram over rape and murder of law student at Perumbavoor

The brutal rape and murder of the law student in her home by an unknown person comes as a warning to literate Kerala.

Many had not thought that incidents like that in Delhi could visit Kerala though there was a previous incident of a girl being pushed out of train and raped on the tracks while she lay bleeding and died.

“The distance from Perumbavoor to our homes is less than that from Delhi to Perumbavoor,” said a facebook post demanding justice for the victim. The same fear was expressed by people who attended protest gatherings before the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.

In fact, two other dalit girls too had been raped recently— one before the Perumbavoor incident at Attingal and another on Wednesday at Varkala, in Thiruvananthapuram district. There were two other reports include rape a minor by her father.

There are complaints that the police did not undertake a proper investigation of the Perumbavoor case until the issue gained attention in the social media and the post mortem report came out describing 38 injuries suffered by the victim.  Questions have also been raised on whether the post mortem was done properly. As the protests grew putting even the government, which is facing an election, in the dock, the police swung into action. They have deployed around 80 policemen for the investigation and taken several people into custody.

Yet another human rights issue may soon arise if the police keep them in custody for more than 24 hours, for there is no confirmation that any of them is the culprit.

As campaign for Assembly elections are going on, the issue is receiving wide traction. The Opposition leaders are blaming police for delay in the investigations.  “It seems that the police are interested only in saving their political masters from corruption charges,” Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly V. S. Achuthanandan told an election convention in Thiruvananthapuram.

Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy reacted quickly. They visited the home of the victim, a single room house on ‘puramboke’ land. Mr. Chandy also called on her mother who is in hospital, but was met with protests from activists of Democratic Youth Federation of India and Social Democratic Party of India.

Mr. Achuthanandan too visited the mother who was away from her house to seek help to build a new house when her daughter was brutalised. “This kind of brutalities will occur when an inept Chief Minister is ruling the State,” he told the media after the visit.

It may be recalled that Mr. Achuthanandan had come to power in 2006 promising that rapists would be handcuffed. But nothing like that happened, his critics point out.

Mr. Chandy said that the culprit would be brought to book. ”None should politicise the issue. Investigations are progressing.”

If the clamour after the Nirbhaya incident in Delhi was for tightening of the laws and increasing of the severity of punishment for rape, that kind of discussion is no more heard in Kerala. Apparently, people have realised that legislative measures have not helped. However, the demand for retributive justice has only gone up. Several people who participated in a phone-in television programme were heard demanding that the culprit should be delivered to the public for them to punish him “properly”.  A few actors also raised similar demands. If such clamour gains ground, it could undermine the rule of law. A few days ago, people had acted against a migrant worker who died after the local people left him on the road with his hands and legs tied.

But, one of the protesters before the Secretariat lamented that none of those who were speaking at the protest meetings of the social media were proposing solutions.  “If the victim was housed in a better environment, the people around there would have reacted and saved her,”  he (S. Jeevan) said.

But, Seeta Dasan, who is from a fisherman family, stressed that the main issue was not whether your homes are secure. “The issue stems from the fact that you are a woman.”

Perhaps, sociologists and criminologists will have to delve into the issue and find out what is wrong with the society. Still, the solutions seem to be far off as traditional values have taken a beating and new ones had not been found to cope with new environments created by the entertainment media, the Internet, new work places and changing social milieu.


Tragedies and failure to fix responsibility

Police at Puttingal temple near Paravoor following the fireworks accident on April 10, 2016

Police at Puttingal temple near Paravoor following the fireworks accident on April 10, 2016

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has announced that rules relating to fireworks in places of worship and elsewhere would be made more stringent while announcing judicial probe into the fireworks tragedy at Paravoor.

The announcement was made without waiting for the finding of the enquiry commission or its recommendations on what are the changes needed in the laws. Instead, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) was immediately tasked with the job of proposing changes to the rules and stipulations.

This is part of an attempt the divert attention from the fact that it was not lack of laws but failure to enforce them that had caused the tragedy. The tragedy would not have occurred if the ban order issued by the Additional District Magistrate was carried out.

This is not the first time that governments resort to such gimmicks. Whenever enforcement fails, governments talk of inadequacy of laws. Instances are several such as rape laws and the Goonda Act. The so called strengthening of the legislation often results only in increasing the bribes and political patronage that goes behind violation of the laws. Besides, those without influence get punishments disproportionate to their crimes.

The announcement of enquiry commissions is used by politicians as a ruse to escape from public ire. Inquiries of by judicial commission often drag for years at huge public expenditure and its recommendations are not often carried out. The time taken could help matters to cool down and delay or avoid fixing of responsibility. In fact, failure to fix responsibility is a major factor behind repetition of tragedies in Kerala.

The Paravoor tragedy may claim a toll higher than that of Perumon tragedy which had claimed 106 lives. The enquiry commission failed to dig at the real reason for the accident and blamed it on ‘tornado’ without any basis. When 45 tourists died at Thekkady following boat capsize in 2009, the attempt was to blame it on the driver though the boat was defective. Following enquiry by a judicial commission, changes were brought to inland vessel rules. However, even the stipulation that life jackets should be issued and worn by the tourists is still being ignored at several places.  There are many similar cases like the Kumarakom boat tragedy and enquiry commission report on that.

Now, it will not be a surprise if those who failed to enforce the additional district magistrate ban order against the fireworks display at Peravoor are not taken to task. Poor fireworks contractors who are minor spokes in the giant wheel that drives festivals like that at Paravoor will be punished.

Kerala government undermines right to information

top-secretThe Right to Information Act was enacted to bring transparency in administration and thus check corruption.

Kerala government is hitting at the very root of the legislation by exempting a branch of the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau (VACB) from the purview of the Act.

A notification issued by the government a month ago excludes the “top secret section” of the Vigilance from the purview of the Act. All confidential verifications and vigilance enquiries /quick verifications of sensitive nature are done by this section of the VACB.

Those who can hide behind the notification include the Chief Minister, former Chief Ministers, Ministers, former Ministers, members of the Assembly and Parliament and all India service officers. Works related to all surprise checks inclusive that of all India service officers, Chief Minister, former chief ministers, ministers, former ministers, MLAs, MPs are also exempted.  All correspondence made by VACB with Lok Ayukta, Lok Pal, CBI and CVC in connection with any enquiry and investigation as well as all petitions which are already under enquiry/investigation by Lok Ayukta,, Lok Pal, CBI and CVC are covered under the notification.

Interestingly, the notification is issued by a government headed by a Chief Minister who has set up Web cameras in his chamber and office claiming that they would enhance transparency. (That it is a farce is another matter). Moreover, the notification is issued misinterpreting a provision of the RTI Act. Section 24(4) of the Act provides for exclusion of intelligence and security organisations from the purview of the Act. The Government has used this provision to include the ‘T’ branch of the VACB in the schedule of organisations excluded from supplying information under the Act.

But the rider is that the provision applies only to “intelligence and security organisations” notified by the government, and a vigilance bureau is neither. Even if it is accepted for argument’s sake that the VACB is intelligence or security organisation, Section 24(4) specifies that information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded. So, the notification by the government is totally in violation of the Act.

It is just aimed to help corrupt ministers and bureaucrats to buy time from public exposure just before the elections. It is notable that the LDF has not strongly come out against the notification— they are also beneficiaries of the notification.

Related: Mullaperiyar studies are public documents

It was another ordeal for endosulfan victims

endosulfan stir

Endosulfan victims and their mothers on hunger strike before the Secretariat

The hunger strike by endosulfan victims and mothers before Kerala Secretariat ended last week after the Government conceded most of their demands.

However, the demands conceded were the ones that the government had conceded as back as in January 2014 following their dharna before the Chief Minister’s residence. Implementation was lagging and the victims had to launch another stir to get yet another assurance that they would be implemented.

The only concrete gain from the agitation was a specific decision to include about 600 more persons from Kasaragod district under the government’s list for providing compensation. Whether other promises would be kept within the term of the present government is to be seen.

In fact, the approach of successive government to the endosulfan problem had been far from satisfactory. It is more than five years since the National Human Rights Commission recommended compensation and other measures. Still the compensation has not reached all.

Though it was a problem that should have been addressed on a war footing, governments often chose to ignore the problem. It was convenient for them to do so, because the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala was responsible for aerial spraying of endosulfan. None of the officials who were responsible for using such dangerous methods of application of pesticides in a populated area, and that too in excess quantities and over water bodies, were never held accountable.

As to rehabilitative and remediative measures, the government could not even do what the voluntary agencies could. It is notable that even the BUDS schools set up by the government did not have facilities for use by physically challenged persons. Even western closets were absent.

As the water bodies were contaminated, the government took no steps to supply pure drinking water to the affected area for two decades after the problem became known. When Rajiv Gandhi drinking water mission was implemented in kasaragod district, the villages chosen for the project were not the endosulfan affected. Decontamination was never attempted. In fact, the remaining stocks of endosulfan with the Corporation are yet to be removed safety from the area.

This blog has said that the settlement two years ago was aimed at fooling the victims. This time also, the situation is only marginally better.

The law and the Delhi rape case

Protests are raging in Delhi over the release of the youngest of the convicts in the gang-rape case of December 2015 who was a minor at the time of commitment of the crime. The Delhi Women’s Commission has approached the Supreme Court demanding that the juvenile, now a man, should be held beyond the period of his sentence by the Juvenile Justice Board.

The Commission either does not know the law or ignoring it. People can be punished only according to the law that was in force at the time of commitment of the crime and a prisoner has a right to be free on completing his sentence. It should be a matter of concern that the Women’s Commission, which is a statutory body, does not appreciate these fundamentals. The Commission should be concerned not only about women’s rights but also about child rights. India’s juvenile justice law is one drafted keeping international covenants on child rights in view.

One of the arguments is that boys in these days are mature enough at the 16 years. If this to be accepted, it has to be established through proper studies. An amendment of the law without such studies, and on the basis of a popular upsurge, will be a grave injustice to children. Even if the law is amended they cannot be enforced retrospectively.

An argument advanced by the Commission and others is that out in the open, the convict would be a threat to the society. He could be, or he may be on the path of being reformed. (Is not the release of every goonda or murderer give rise to such a risk? A bigger risk could be persons with criminal backgrounds in our legislatures!) If he had been radicalised in reform facility as reported, is not the system or the authorities at fault?

If we look at the mater more closely, one can see that more than the boy in question, the government and the society is responsible for what has happened. The boy is son of a mentally sick father. Apparently, he did not get school education which was his right. Instead, he was apparently forced to seek work. It is not surprising that he could find work only in a bus that was routinely breaking the law with the connivance of authorities. He landed among people who had criminal tendencies and attitudes. (One of their attitudes was one of moral policing even while being in the wrong side of the law. But this is an attitude that some of those close to the ruling class is now trying to perpetuate.) Under these circumstances, it was only natural that he grew up to be a criminal.

What happened in Delhi would not have occurred if the government had enforced motor vehicles rules strictly. How come that an underage is employed in a bus? How could the bus operator break rules? These should be bigger concern than the release of a single prisoner. The released prisoner may be a threat to society, but bigger threats are looming elsewhere.

(Update: The Supreme Court has rejected the Women’s Commission plea.)




Mullaperiyar- fresh litigation will be ill-advised at this stage

Kerala Government plans to approach the Supreme Court yet again on the Mullaperiyar issue— this time over the alleged failures of the supervisory committee appointed by the Court to properly manage release of water from Dam through the spillways.

This is just an attempt by the politicians to buy time and hoodwink the public. The supervisory committee has representatives of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and Central Water Commission. The question of failure to issue timely warning before release of water through the spillways is a matter that the State government should be able to settle administratively, if necessary seeking intervention of the Centre. It will not be appropriate to agitate the Supreme Court now.

Moreover, it is not Kerala’s case that the Tamil Nadu did not warn it of impending release of water. There were reports that Theni Collector did so a few days ago. The complaint is that the Idukki Collector was not informed six hours before the release. Tamil Nadu apparently wanted to record that the water level touched 142 feet. When water level reached 141.9, it became imperative for Tamil Nadu to release water immediately as the inflow was very heavy. There needs to be an understanding on gradual release of water without waiting for the water level to touch 142 feet.

Kerala should also insist upon its lower riparian rights. The Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court had mooted construction of a tunnel to drain water into Periyar River downstream. This is also important from the point of view of safety. All modern dams have Bottom outlet tunnel which will facilitate emptying of the dam in case of an emergency—the Mullaperiyar dam does not have one, being one designed in the 19th century.

Every time Kerala has gone to Court over the Mullaperiyar issue, it has led to closure of its options. It has already lost its case that Tamil Nadu should raise the water level of Mullaperiyar beyond 136 feet only after exhausting storage at Vaigai Dam and that the spillway shutters should be opened gradually. In fact, when Kerala is arguing that the dam is not safe, it should be prepared for sudden release of water. This was what was lacking downstream of Mullaperiyar this Monday.

Kerala has failed to set up monitoring facilities it proposed on earlier occasions downstream of the Dam. Around 50 monitoring installations on the dam and reservoir, under control of Tamil Nadu, are reportedly not functioning. This is an issue that Kerala should be taking up legally or administratively. Even a modern dam without functioning monitoring equipment is unsafe.

Kerala had rushed to nullify a Supreme Court order of 2006 though legislation within weeks of the Court issuing the order. The legislature in its wisdom fixed the water level at 136 feet without building up supporting material. The Kerala Dam Safety Authority, which is a quasi judicial body, on the other had could have commissioned international studies on Mullaperiyar under the law and fixed the water level appropriately which would have been difficult to question before the Supreme Court.

When the Court quashed the law, Kerala suffered a multiple blow. Its arguments had led to the Supreme Court appointing a supervisory committee. As the supervisory committee of the Supreme Court is now managing the water level, it could put blame on Tamil Nadu only if it disregarded directives of the committee. Kerala will not even be able claim damages from Tamil Nadu for any losses caused by release of water or dam failure.

Kerala had ample time to prepare internationally acceptable documents on safety of Mullaperyar Dam from 2006 and even before. But it always rushed to do studies at the last minute. When safety of the people was paramount, one of the first studies it commissioned over a short span of time after 2006 was on submergence of forests and wildlife. (An analysis of errors in that study is available here. The author had to admit before Court that he had done a copycat job of work done by a State agency.)

Though there was an erroneous observation in the 2006 judgment (See Mullaperiyar- behind the veil.) that waters from Mullaperiyar would be contained in Idukki reservoir in case of failure of the former, Kerala failed to complete and produce the Dam Break Analysis before the Supreme Court in the case filed by Tamil Nadu challenging Kerala’s dam safety law.


Extract from judgment
Extract from the judgment of Supreme Court in ORIGINAL SUIT NO. 3 OF 2006 between Tamil Nadu and Kerala

Though the State Information Commission has ruled that this and other studies are public documents, the Principal Secretary of Water Resources Department has issued an illegal order against release of documents pertaining to the Mullaperiyar Dam as long as the issue is under litigation. Perhaps this is one reason why it wants another litigation.

As its strategies have failed so far, it is high time that it reconstituted the Mullaperiyar Special Cell with fresh talent and drew up fresh strategies.

For further reading:

Mullaperiyar: Kerala seeks review of Probable Maximum Flood





Season of contradictions


Vellappally  Natesan leading a march (file photo)

Vellappally Natesan leading a march (file photo)

The season of political marches has started in Kerala with Assembly elections being just six months away. The first to set off from Kasaragod is the Samatwa Munnetta Yatra led by general secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam Vellappally Natesan.

The objective of the march is the unity of majority (Hindu) communities. The objective does not quite synchronise with that of Sree Narayana Guru, the founder of the Yogam, who had envisaged a casteless society with the slogan one caste, one religion and one God for man. Mr. Natesan wants to bring all castes ranging from Nayadi to Namboothiri under the umbrella of his proposed political party, but with distinct identities.

Mr. Natesan, who had once tried to form a front of backward classes in association with the Muslim League, is now speaking against Muslim League and other Muslim political outfits such as PDP and Welfare Party in his bid to form “Hindu party”. The problem, however, is all the castes could not agree on the question of reservation. Besides, some are not comfortable with the RSS ideology with which Mr. Natesan is trying to link his new political party.

The CPI (M) too will soon be starting its march across the State, and one of its principal targets will be Mr. Natesan who is trying to wean away the Ezhava community from CPI (M). However, it is yet to decide whether the party secretary would lead the march as in the past. Question is also in the air as to whether former party secretary Pinarai Vijayan or Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan should lead party and the Opposition front in the election campaign. (And in case of victory, who will be the Chief Minister). The choice is crucial because the two leaders differ so much in style and principles.

KPCC president V. M. Sudheeran is also expected to announce a march shortly. His problem will be to resolve the conflicts and contradictions among ruling front constituents and groups within his party. Their differences have been accentuated during the recent elections to the local self governments to such an extent that co-ordination for the coming elections will be an uphill task.

Skeletons are being pushed out in Kerala


LSG election campaign posters in Thiruvananthapuram

Skeletons were not tumbling out but were being pushed out in Kerala as campaign for elections to the local self government intensified.

Election is an occasion when adjustment politics becomes difficult if you are not in alliance. So, every move by one Front or party is to be countered by the other.

In the initial phase of the campaign, the Opposition Left Democratic Front was not speaking much about the bar-bribery case though it had laid waste an entire session of the Assembly over the issue a few months back.

However, when the Vigilance Court directed that the probe into the case should be continued, it was hardly an opportunity to be missed amidst the campaign. As Opposition met even the Governor seeking ouster of Finance Minister K. M. Mani, in view of the court observation that there was prima facie a case against him.

Suddenly, skeletons in the LDF cupboard started falling, or being pulled out. News was leaked that the Vigilance was dropping the corruption case against former Minister Elamaram Kareem in Chakkittappara iron ore mining case. Mr. Kareem was alleged to have received Rs. 5 crore as bribe for granting permission to illegal iron ore mining. The Vigilance reported that Mr. Kareem had not received any bribes and also that the case was obsolete.

The allegations against V. A. Arunkumar, son of Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan, too got a fresh run with news reports that the Vigilance had recommended prosecution of Mr. Arunkumar for financial irregularities in Coirfed where he had been the Managing Director. Apparently, the recommendation was ready to be leaked out at the right moment.

SNDP Yogam General Secretary Vellappally Natesan, who started dreaming of a new political party and cobbled some sort of alliance with the BJP also met with a similar fate. The allegations surrounding the drowning of Swami Swaswathikanda of Sivagiri Mutt suddenly resurfaced with imputations that he had been murdered. Allegations about involvement of Mr. Natesan and his son were made by the very person (Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association Working President Biju Ramesh) who had raised allegations against Mr. Mani also. Obviously, he has Opposition support as CPI (M) would be the worst hit by Natesan’s alliance.

Faced with the allegations and certain uncertainties over the alliance with BJP, Mr. Natesan had to play it on a low key and skip some of the campaign programmes.

Kerala voters are discerning and know that all the skeletons are not phantoms. They have turned up in large numbers to vote and the results are keenly awaited. Which of the skeletons would they recognise as real and react to them is to be seen.