More lows than highs in first year of VS Government

via Pioneer News Service | Thiruvananthapuram published on May 17, 2007

The first and most important event that took place for the VS Achuthanandan-led LDF Ministry had nothing to do with politics. It was an alleged sexual escapade involving a minister, PJ Joseph, till then seen as one of the most clean figures in Kerala politics.

Since that first scandal for the LDF Government, which is celebrating its first anniversary on Friday, has not had much time to settle down. It was a momentous year for Kerala but not a very good year for the LDF.

The Joseph incident was the first blow that the VS Ministry was destined to receive. Joseph, then Minister for Public Works, was accused of behaving indecently with a Malayali woman, Lakshmi Gopakumar, on a Kingfisher Airline plane on a balmy August evening at Chennai airport. The accusation had come at a time when Jospeh was already in the dock over an old case pertaining to the Maithri Housing Project.

After police probes, lies, hearings and heated Cabinet discussions, Joseph resigned to become the first, and so far the only, casualty in the VS Cabinet. However, Joseph ensured that his line of administration would continue by nominating his close confidant TU Kuruvila to head the Public Works Department.

Kuruvila would later prove that what he was best at was to attract criticism for inefficiency. The VS Ministry assumed office when farmers all over Kerala, especially in Waynad district, were continuing to commit suicide due to their inability to repay their bank loans. This was one of the main issues that the LDF had capitalised on during the campaigning for the April 2006 Assembly polls. After the Ministers took the oath of office at a totally unconventional function, the initial enthusiasm had pushed Achuthanandan and his colleagues to immediately announce measures to constitute a Farmers’ Debt Relief Commission with quasi-judicial powers. The commission came into being, but the suicides continued.

International deals for mega-projects in banana republics are not unknown. Canadian company, SNC Lavalin had come to repair hydel plants in Kerala in such a situation, and it had obviously played its game well. The contract had later become a ‘deal’, and when the ghost of the deal took the Assembly by storm, the man who was trapped in it was none other than CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. However, Achuthanandan forgot about group rivalry for a moment, and defended his secretary. Indeed the Opposition UDF, led by former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy celebrated it. The greatest of the failures of the LDF Government had come from Education Minister MA Baby, whose Kerala State Self-Financing Professional Colleges Act 2006 was destined to fail the test of judiciary after circuitous journeys through courtrooms. The only thing he achieved with the Act was that he ensured a strong unity of the college managements and a negotiating power in all matters for them. The pro-CPI(M) SFI were not all overjoyed by this, but they went on defending Baby’s Act.

The lavishness of ministers in renovating their official residences, death of more than a dozen persons in police-related events, the chikungunya situation in Alappuzha district, row over the proposed ADB loan, the court cases against Local Administration Minister Paloli Muhammadkutty and Power Minister AK Balan, the spiralling prices of essential commodities the never-ending feud in the CPI(M) which at many points of time became an irritant as far as public administration was concerned. The tests were many for the Achuthanandan Ministry, and in almost all of them the concerned Ministers failed miserably.

The final embarrassment in the series would come towards the end of the first year in the form of the death of 38 newborn babies due to bacterial infection at the Sree Avittam Thirunnal Hospital in the capital. Health Minister PK Sreemathi, who had always been quick in offering justifications that looked more like excuses, saved face somehow with the support of her party.

The saving grace in the first year in office for the Government came from Achuthanandan himself when he succeeded in signing the Smart City agreement and launching Mission Munnar, the overwhelmingly popular operation led by the demolition squad constituting hand-picked team for evicting encroachers from public land in the hill resort. Had he not succeeded in these two affairs, the LDF Ministry would not be celebrating its first anniversary with enthusiasm.


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