Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: In what could be a huge setback for State Finance Minister K.M. Mani who is at the centre of the bar scam here, the Kerala High Court on Monday upheld the Special Vigilance Court's direction asking for a further probe.
It was on October 29 that the Thiruvananthapuram based vigilance court quashed the clean chit given by the vigilance department that probed the bar scam to Mani and asked for a further probe by the department.
Soon after the lower court verdict, the vigilance department approached the Kerala High Court seeking a stay on the lower court's verdict and the case, after a preliminary hearing last week, was posted for Monday.
On Monday, the vigilance department brought in former cabinet minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, a lawyer, to argue for it. But Judge Kamal Pasha took a very strong stand and made numerous remarks that left Mani and the Kerala government in a tight spot.
Among the various references that the court made on Monday was the decision that is being left to Mani, if he wants to continue as a minister, since a further probe will take place.
The court also came down heavily on the vigilance director for the way he handled the case and came out in support of the lower court judge who had asked for the case diary.
The judge also mentioned the proverb that Caesar's wife should be above suspicion, adding that if a further probe takes place while Mani is a minister, it could sow doubts in the minds of the people.
The case began last October when bar owner Biju Ramesh revealed that Mani was given one crore rupees as bribe by the Kerala bar owners to see that the 418 closed bars are reopened.
Following a letter by then leader of opposition V.S. Achuthanandan to the vigilance director, the Kerala government ordered a vigilance probe against Mani.
Following a quick verification, a case was registered naming Mani as the first accused.
After seven months of investigation, the vigilance department found there was not enough evidence against Mani and they had filed a closure report in the vigilance court that last month quashed the clean chit. It ordered a further probe which was upheld on Monday by the high court.
Meanwhile, Mani's party and cabinet colleague Irrigation Minister P.J. Joseph said their party Kerala Congress (Mani) will deliberate on the issue.
Another party colleague of Mani, government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan, said the question of Mani resigning does not arise.
But various leaders of the Congress party including legislators like V.D. Sateeshan, T.N.Prathapan besides senior Congress party office bearers like A.P. Anil Kumar and others have said that Mani has to step down.
State Congress chief V.M. Sudheeran and state Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the Congress party and the UDF would decide what needed to be done.
Mani's estranged party colleague and six time legislator P.C. George said that if Mani has any shame, he should not only resign but apologise to the people as well.
"The only crime I did was, eight months back I said what the court observed today and for that I was suspended from the party. Mani has to go," said George.
State CPI-M secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan at a hurriedly called press meet in the capital city said the game is over not just for Mani but also for Chief Minister Oommen Chandy who has been shielding the former.
Speaking to reporters, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that since most of the leaders are out of the city, a meeting has been called for Tuesday.
"I have got in touch with a few leaders and tomorrow we have decided to meet here (Thiruvananthapuram) to discuss the issue," said Chandy.
Meanwhile, in reply to a question if Mani's resignation has been sought, he asked: "Who has sought his resignation?".
Angry Left supporters gathered in large numbers outside Mani's colony and raised slogans against Mani.
Reacting to the court observations in Kochi, Mani told reporters: "At my party meeting tomorrow, we will discuss this. But I wish to add that there has been a conspiracy in this and it will come out too."