Apex court gives one-year jail to ex-Kerala minister (Lead, changing dateline)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

NEW DELHI/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM - The Supreme Court Thursday sentenced former Congress minister from Kerala R. Balakrishna Pillai and two others to one-year jail for corruption in the award of contract for a hydro-power project. Pillai said he would go to prison.

The convicts were sentenced under the Prevention of Corruption Act for lapses in the Edamalayar hydroelectric power project, whose tunnel developed cracks in the mid-1980s.

The apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan reversed the Kerala High Court judgment which acquitted all the three.

Since the then Congress government in Kerala did not challenge the high court order, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan — who was then leader of the opposition — had moved the Supreme Court, challenging the acquittal.

The apex court allowed Achuthanandan’s appeal and also imposed a fine of Rs.10,000 on each of the three convicts.

Speaking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, Pillai, 76, said he would not seek a review of the apex court decision and go to jail.

Pillai is the chairman of the Kerala Congress(B), an ally of the Congress-led opposition, claimed he was innocent.

“Through my act, the Edamalayar tunnel project became a reality and I stand by what I always have said that there was no corruption in it. I feel my end will come in jail. I am not going for a review petition and as and when the summons come, I will surrender,” said Pillai.

The case surfaced in 1985 following reports that tunnel developed cracks and the then Left government appointed sitting High Court Judge K.Sukumaran to look into the issue.

In 1988, the judicial report suggested that there were lapses in the project and the Left government accepted the report and ordered a crime branch probe and formed a special court for trial.

In 1999, the special court prosecuted and held Pillai and others guilty and sentenced them to five-year jail term.

Pillai and others went in appeal to the Kerala High Court, which in 2004 exonerated them. Achuthanandan moved the apex court against the acquittal.

Reacting to this, Achuthanandan said the apex court verdict was the perfect answer for all those who attacked him for the litigation.

“This is the first time a former Kerala minister has been sentenced by the apex court in a corruption case. This would happen to all those who siphon off public money,” said Achuthanandan.

The apex court approved the prosecution plea that the former minister was instrumental in a conspiracy to cause a loss over Rs.2 crore to the Kerala State Electricity Board in the construction of the tunnel for the project.

Meeting Pillai at his home in Thiruvananthapuram soon after the verdict, Leader of Opposition Oommen Chandy of the Congress said they will look into the legal steps that could be taken.

“This case was dismissed by the Kerala High Court,” said Chandy.

The verdict comes at a time when Pillai was all set to contest the forthcoming assembly polls. He lost in the 2006 polls.

Pillai’s son K.B. Ganesh Kumar is the lone legislator of his party in the Kerala assembly, while two of his sons-in-law are senior Indian Administrative Service officials in the state.

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