Heads roll, Chandy in defensive mode

Thiruvananthapuram, June 14 (IANS) Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, under intense criticism from the Left opposition over his staff members being in contact with a woman charged with several cheating cases, Friday asked two of them to step down.

"I have received a preliminary report of the investigating officer. Based on that, I am removing two of my staff members, and further action would be based on the report of the probe, once investigation is completed," Chandy said in the assembly Friday.

Chandy's personal assistant Teny Jopan - from whose mobile phone nearly 70 calls were made to the woman in a month's time - and his gunman Salim Raj have been asked to step down till the probe is completed.

The Left had taken up the issue following the revelation by a TV channel a few days back of calls made to Saritha S. Nair, a woman in police custody for involvement in several cheating cases.

The TV channel revealed that the woman had easy access to Jopan and others in Chandy's office.

Nair, since 2000, is alleged to have been involved in more than 13 cases of cheating. Her latest escapade was conducted under the name of Team Solar, a company believed to have cheated numerous people of crores of rupees on the promise of supplying solar panels and putting up windmill farms.

The matter has been raised in the state assembly for the past three days. Former home minister and CPI-M leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, said after Chandy's statement in the house that this action alone would not suffice.

"Chandy should step down and order a judicial probe into the entire episode. The so-called ongoing probe by an additional director general of police will not reveal anything. We demand that you should go; and we want a judicial probe," Balakrishnan told Chandy, leading the opposition out of the house.

Meanwhile Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan told reporters outside the assembly that the Left does not have a consistent stand on the issue.

"Now they say the chief minister should step down and order a judicial probe. The rule is that for any case to go ahead, an investigation has to take place and that's going on now. That is the law of the land," Radhakrishnan said.

Salim Raj, the chief minister's gunman who has been asked to step down, said he too had been taken for a ride by Saritha Nair. He said he had only spoken to her because he wanted to learn about solar panels. "I am ready to face any probe. She cheated me too," he said.

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