Kerala: Irregularities In Housing Project Reminiscent Of CM Vijayan’s Alleged Role In 1995 Lavalin Scandal, Says UDF

by M R Subramani - Aug 19, 2020 11:04 AM
Kerala: Irregularities In Housing Project Reminiscent Of CM Vijayan’s Alleged Role In 1995 Lavalin Scandal, Says UDFChief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan, photographed in Delhi’s Kerala house. (Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images)
  • Gold smuggling case accused, Swapna Suresh, during ED investigations, confessed that she had got Rs 1 crore as commission for getting Rs 20 crore funds for Life Mission Project, Vijayan’s pet scheme to provide homes for homeless in Kerala.

The Kerala gold smuggling case that has led investigators to the office of the State Chief Minister (CMO) Pinarayi Vijayan is bringing more problems for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.

One of the prime accused in the case, Swapna Suresh, during investigations, had confessed that she had got Rs 1 crore as commission for getting Rs 20 crore funds for Life Mission Project, which is Vijayan’s pet scheme.

The objective of the project is to provide houses to the homeless and landless.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the United Arab Emirates’ Red Crescent and Life Mission.

The MoU was signed during Kerala Chief Minister’s visit to Dubai in February last year. However, Vijayan had dismissed allegations of the State government’s involvement and had refused to provide a copy of the MoU.

But with the Enforcement Directorate, which is probing the money laundering angle in the gold smuggling case, seeking a copy in view of Swapna’s links, more details on the project are coming to light.

In fact, the revelations have led to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) drawing a parallel to the 1995 Lavalin Kerala Hydroelectric scandal in which Vijayan was one of the accused.

The scandal was with regard to the Kerala government entering into a contract with Canadian company Lavalin to renovate and modernise three power stations in the State.

The deal resulted in alleged loss of Rs 374.5 crore to the exchequer.

The Kerala High Court acquitted Vijayan in August 2017 but a Central Bureau of Investigation petition against the acquittal is currently pending in the Supreme Court.

UDF convener Benny Behanan has termed the Life Mission Project as Vijayan’s second Lavalin, while launching a signature campaign demanding the Chief Minister’s resignation.

The problem for Vijayan is that a copy of the project’s MoU, running into seven pages, has now been handed over to the Enforcement Directorate.

The MoU says that the Kerala government will be the second party with Red Crescent being the first.

This means the State government is responsible for the project. Any problem in implementing it would be resolved through bilateral talks. If no common ground was found, then it could be shelved.

The MoU is silent on the completion of the project and audit of accounts.

This has helped Swapna take advantage of the MoU, which stated that Unitach would be involved in construction.

According to the MoU, a housing complex would be built as part of the Life Mission project at Wadakkanchery in Thrissur.

The housing complex was allocated Rs 14.5 crore for construction, while a hospital was to be constructed at a cost of Rs 5.5 crore.

The MoU states that separate contracts will have to be signed for every activity in the project, but there is no clarity if further contracts have been signed.

Another disclosure of the project is the appointment of a consultant, Hindustan Prefab Limited of New Delhi.

The consultant was to be paid 0.5 per cent of the cost of construction of the flats as per the tender.

The tender for the first stage floated by the project was of Rs 75 crore value, while the tender for the second stage has also been floated.

The construction under the project will come up in 10 districts of Kerala.

The Life Mission project is a campaign to build houses for families which do not have lands or houses.

This is a financial empowerment project that provides means of livelihood.

The eligibility criteria for the scheme is that an applicant cannot be a government employee and the annual income should not exceed Rs 300,000. Only Kerala residents are eligible for the scheme and they must possess ration cards.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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