In a major blow to the Congress-led UDF government in Kerala, Excise Minister K Babu has resigned from the cabinet. The decision of the minister has come after a court in Thrissur ordered the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau to register a case against him in the bar bribery scam. Babu is the second minister in the Oommen Chandy led government to step down from his cabinet post in the bar bribery fraud.
Minister Babu, after tending the resignation letter to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, said that he is stepping down on ‘moral grounds’. He said that even when there is no prima facie evidence against him, a PIL was filed in the court based on a CD of an interview with the whistle blower Biju Ramesh in a TV channel. He also further clarified that there is no report against him in the court and there is no evidence to prove him guilty in the FIR submitted. Moreover, Babu claimed, the witnesses have already made contrasting statements which itself points to the level of conspiracy involved in the case.
Babu also said that he was a ‘victim’ of the conspiracy by bar owners and the CPI (M) leaders. He also alleged that some bar owners had met at the residence of Sivankutty MLA’s house with state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan on December 15 evening at seven.
Babu said that in the meeting that they had plotted to bring his name into the controversy to tarnish his image. He also said that the bar owners had conspired with the CPM leaders after they have received the word that at least a few bars would be reopened if the Left comes to power next.
Sivankutty MLA speaking to the media said that the allegation by K Babu had come as a wasted attempt to save his face and rubbished the allegation as mere a farce.
Biju Ramesh, a bar hotelier, termed the allegation as mere rubbish. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has not yet responded to the resignation and it is crucial for him how he faces the situation in the coming days. With elections are fast approaching, it would task a gargantuan effort to Oommen Chandy to defend the resignation of his close confidante K Babu.
Meanwhile, the Thrissur Vigilance Court also ordered that the first report in the case should be filed by February 22. Thrissur Vigilance Court judge SS Vasan, who criticized the Vigilance for the slow progress in filing quick verification report order earlier by the court, issued the order.
The court also ordered that a case to be registered against Biju Ramesh who had leveled the bribery allegation against the minister. Babu will be the second minister to be booked by the Vigilance over the bar bribery charges after then-Finance Minister K M Mani quit in November 2015 following adverse remarks by the High Court against him in the matter.
The bar bribery scandal broke on October 31, 2014, the day the Kerala High Court ratified the state government’s new liquor policy restricting the sale of alcohol in bars in Kerala. The High Court’s verdict was given following a petition from the Bar Hotel Owners’ Association (KBHOA) challenging the government policy.