With the election campaign for the Lok Sabha hotting up, things may not augur well for Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan when the Supreme Court takes up the SNC Lavalin graft case for hearing on Friday.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had told the apex earlier that Pinarayi should face trial in the case. Though the Kerala High Court had ruled against the trial of Pinarayi in the case where a loss of ₹86.25 crore was incurred in the Kerala State Electricity Board’s (KSEB) contract with Lavalin, the CBI affidavit in the Supreme Court demanded his trial.
The matter comes up for hearing on Friday, creating a risk for the Chief Minister who has found himself facing bitter criticism for his tough stand on implementing the Supreme Court verdict on young women entry to Sabarimala. The latest killing of two Youth Congress activists in Kasaragod where a local CPM leader is among the prime accused has made things worse for Pinarayi and the Government he leads.
The CBI had said Pinarayi had travelled to Canada as a “guest” of Lavalin in 1997 when he was the Electricity Minister. There he had made the "crucial" decision to promote Lavalin from a consultancy firm to a supplier one.
The corruption case is about the contract for renovation and modernisation of the Pallivasai, Sengulam and Panniyar hydel projects.
Before his Canada visit, there was only a memorandum of understanding between Lavalin and the State Government. The consultancy agreements signed earlier were changed to supply contracts a year later in 1996 “solely at the behest” of Pinarayi, according to the CBI affidavit.
The Canada visit resulted in the proposal for Lavalin to construct a cancer centre at Thalassery for ₹98.3 crore. The CBI said this was Pinarayi's proposal but did not take off. The affidavit said, “SNC Lavalin had obtained huge wrongful gains on account of the contracts awarded to them.”
This, it said, led to “willful omissions and commissions on the part of public servants and provided the opportunity to SNC Lavalin for deriving wrongful gain, causing corresponding loss to KSEB”. There were no tenders invited to award Lavalin the ₹243.74-crore contract. There were cost-overruns pushing it to ₹374.5 crore on completion.
A criminal case was registered on February 12, 2007. CBI filed its chargesheet on the same date in June 2009. The High Court had discharged Pinarayi and two former KSEB top officials, K Mohanachandran (Principal Secretary) and A Francis (joint secretary). But three other officials of the board, M Kasthuriranga Iyer, G Rajasekharan Nair and R Sivadasan, according to the court, had to face trial. They challenged this in the Supreme Court.
Pinarayi also moved the court against the plea for naming him an accused which will also be heard on Friday.