Kerala Gold Smuggling Case: State’s Housing Project For Homeless Could Be In Trouble For Failing To Get Centre’s Approval
Kerala housing project for the poor in limbo as the state government fails to get necessary approvals from the central government.
The Union and Kerala governments are at loggerheads on the issue of whether the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the southern state should have got the Centre’s approval for signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Red Crescent of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Kerala government and Red Crescent had signed an MoU for the state’s LIFE Mission project to provide houses to the homeless and landless. State Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan signed the MoU in Dubai last year.
External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivatsava told the media at the weekly briefing in New Delhi that as per records, the LDF government did not seek the Centre’s approval to sign the MoU with Red Crescent.
However, the State Chief Minister, addressing the media in Thiruvananthapuram, said that the Centre’s approval was required when an MoU was being signed with a foreign government and not with organisations such as Red Crescent.
He said if the Centre had not been informed, then the state would provide information on the MoU.
Even if the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) government gets away with this, there could still be problems with the project since the Centre says that the UAE Consulate General had no authority to enter into a contract with a private company, Unitac Builders and Developments.
This was revealed by the External Affairs Ministry at the Parliamentary Standing Committee meeting yesterday (27 August). The ministry was responding to questions raised by N K Premachandran, who represents Revolutionary Socialist Party from the Kollam Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala.
External Affairs Secretary Vikas Swarup told the meeting that a private company entering into a contract with Red Crescent for a project in Kerala should have got the Union government’s approval.
He also said that if necessary, the agencies investigating the gold smuggling case can go to the UAE and question the attache of the Thiruvananthapuram UAE Consulate, who had left the country soon after the smuggling case became a major issue.
If guilty, the attache would be tried under UAE laws as India and the Gulf kingdom do not have any agreement on the transfer of their nationals found guilty in any case.
The LIFE Mission came into limelight after one of the prime accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, Swapna Suresh, reportedly confessed that she had got Rs 1 crore as commission for getting the UAE funding for the housing project.
The Kerala government and Red Crescent entered into an MoU to build houses for the homeless at a cost of Rs 20 crore to construct flats and a hospital at Wadakkancherry in Thrissur district.
A separate contract was signed between the UAE Consulate General and Unitac Builders and Developments for construction of flats for which the land was allocated by the state government. However, a drawback in the contract is both parties to the MoU – Kerala government and Red Crescent – are nowhere in its picture.
The Kerala gold smuggling case came to light on 5 July after Customs Department officials seized 13 kg of gold valued at Rs 14.5 crore that came in diplomatic baggage meant for the UAE Consulate.
Investigations pointed to probable links to terrorists and even threat to the nation’s security. The case has extended to the Chief Minister’s office with the now-suspended principal secretary M Sivasankar asking Customs Department officials to go easy on Swapna.
In view of the terrorist links, the National Investigation Agency was asked to take over the probe. Along with it, the Enforcement Directorate is looking into the hawala trading angle.
So far, nearly 15 people have been arrested in connection with the case. The roles of two Kerala ministers is also under scrutiny in the case.
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