CBI gets active again in Vijayan s controversial Life Mission project

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Thiruvananthapuram, May 25

After a hiatus, the CBI on Wednesday decided to reopen the case of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's pet project, Life Mission, which had come under the scanner of the CBI and the ED due to alleged wrong doings but was lying in the cold storage of these national agencies.

The case involves the alleged violation of foreign contributions regulations in the Kerala government's flagship Life Mission project. This project intends to provide homes to the poor who lost their houses in the devastating floods of 2018. The project at Wadakancherry in Trissur district then came under a cloud.

The CBI arrested Unitac builder Santhosh Eapen besides questioning top government officials, including the powerful senior IAS officer M. Sivasankar who was then Principal Secretary to Vijayan.

The case surfaced after the gold smuggling case came to light in June 2020 in which Sivasankar was jailed.

The prime accused in the gold smuggling case included Swapna Suresh and Sarith both of whom were employed in the UAE Consulate. Later it was revealed that they had a role in Life Mission funds misappropriation too.

The state government had approached the Kerala High Court to stop the probe, but it dismissed the pleas and said that an ongoing CBI probe should continue in the case involving senior government officers and contractors.

The Kerala government counsel and Supreme Court's Senior Advocate KK Vishwanathan argued in the court of Justice P. Somarajan that a CBI probe could not be carried out in the case as statutory bodies are exempted from the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

The state's lawyer argued that the go-ahead for the CBI probe would lead to a policy paralysis and the High Court should prevent it.

On the other hand, CBI counsel Sasthamangalam Ajithkumar argued that the project Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was not very specific and it could be believed to be an eyewash.

The CBI argued that private company Unitac, carrying out construction on behalf of a Kerala government body did not get the contract through a tender.

Ajithkumar said that the project entailed construction of 97 apartments and a health centre, claiming that both the gold smuggling case accused held talks with Unitac and fixed a commission of 30 per cent of the project cost — 20 per cent to a UAE official and 10 per cent to Swapna Suresh and other co-accused for approvals and other file movements.

The CBI claimed that Sivasankar had met Unitac owner Santhosh Eapen at the IAS officer's chamber along with Swapna Suresh and assured full support. Life Mission Chief Executive Officer UV Jose was also allegedly present at Sivasankar's office.

The CBI counsel argued that since senior government officials were involved in the scam, a full-fledged inquiry by the Central agency was necessary, which the court allowed.

Following this, the Kerala government approached the Supreme Court to stop the probe.

Then the case went into a limbo and on Wednesday, the report is that the apex court has given the nod to the CBI to carry on with the probe. The agency has served a notice to Sarith to appear before them at their office here on Wednesday.

The CBI is expected to also ask Sivasankar and Swapna Suresh to appear before them in the coming days.

Sivasankar after being in jail for a few months secured bail and has now resumed duty.


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