Kerala cabinet okays judicial probe into solar scam

Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 16 (IANS) The Kerala cabinet Friday gave its nod to a judicial probe into the solar scam. The probe would be conducted by a sitting judge of the Kerala High Court, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said.

Addressing reporters here after a cabinet meeting, Chandy said a request regarding the judicial probe would be sent to the chief justice of the high court.

"The Left opposition can either come for a discussion on the terms of reference for the probe, or they can even send us their suggestions in writing. They had earlier said they were not willing to engage in discussion. We have an open mind in the matter, and cannot force them into a discussion," Chandy said.

The solar scam has been making headlines in the state for two months. Saritha Nair and her live-in partner Biju Radhakrishnan allegedly defrauded people by offering solar energy solutions at huge discounts. After large sums of money were collected, the couple failed to make good their promises. Large numbers of complaints against them were received by police.

Telephone call records of the fraudsters, who are under arrest, showed they had been in close touch with people in high office in the state.

While one member of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's personal staff was arrested in the case, two others lost their jobs. The opposition had demanded that the chief minister should resign, to enable an unbiased probe.

Asked if the terms of reference for the probe would also include an investigation of the role of the chief minister's office, as demanded by the Left opposition, Chandy said that numerous allegations were raised about his own office, but nothing was produced to substantiate the allegations.

The Left opposition organised an indefinite "siege" of the secretariat, the seat of the Kerala government, Monday last. It was called off the next day, after Chandy announced that he was prepared to order a judicial probe. He had said then that his office would not fall under the purview of the probe.

Many in the opposition are unhappy that after first claiming that the protest would not end until the chief minister quit, the Left, with such alacrity, accepted the offer of a judicial probe; besides, the chief minister had, on earlier occasions, said that a judicial probe could be conducted.

CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Delhi Friday that those who led the siege had said that the Left would meet Aug 19 to decide on the next course of action in this matter.

"The police probe is for people like Saritha and Biju. Only a judicial probe will reveal whether the chief minister and his office had a role in the matter," Vijayan said.

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