Kerala govt faces more heat with CBI set to probe housing project scheme

The project, which aimed at building free houses for the poor, got into a controversy after the NIA seized Rs one crore cash and two kilograms gold from gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh.
File photo: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.(PTI)
File photo: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.(PTI)
Updated on Sep 26, 2020 12:07 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram | ByRamesh Babu | Edited by Sparshita Saxena

Facing enough heat in the gold smuggling case, more trouble is in store for the Kerala government after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday registered a case into alleged irregularities in the state’s pet housing scheme ‘Life Mission Project’.

The project, which aimed at building free houses for the poor, got into a controversy after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) seized Rs one crore cash and two kilograms gold from the bank locker of gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh in July. She later told the NIA that Rs one crore was the commission she got for clinching a deal with an international aid agency ‘Red Crescent’ which funded the project in Vadakancherry in Thrissur district. She said gold was gifted to her during her marriage.

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Later a news channel controlled by the CPI(M) came out with more revelations claiming Rs 4 crore was paid as commission in the Rs 20 crore project. Later it came to light that no permission was taken from the Union government for accepting the foreign contribution. The anti-corruption unit of the CBI has registered a case under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). When the issue snowballed into a controversy, the state government maintained that it will not come under the purview of the FCRA.

Though the issue came to light almost two months back, the state government had announced a vigilance probe into it only two days ago. State opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had also written several letters to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan seeking a copy of the agreement but he got it only a couple of days back.

The Congress and the BJP have sought a CBI probe into alleged irregularities into the project but chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said they were plotting to sabotage the project intended to help the poor.

“It is time for the CM to quit before the CBI comes knocking at his doors,” said Chennithala. But the ruling CPI(M) maintained it was least bothered over the latest probe. The CM also said the government will go ahead with the project.

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During 30-kilogram gold smuggling investigation, probe agencies also found that a heavy consignment weighing more than 4,000 kilos had arrived in 31 bags on March 4 and was taken to Malappuram. State higher education minister KT Jaleel later claimed that these packets contained only religious books and he took them to his constituency for distribution. But the Opposition alleged that some consignments also carried gold and Jaleel was using holy books to cover up his illegal act. The minister was questioned twice by the probe agency.

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