The opposition disrupted proceedings in the Assembly on Monday for the first time this session demanding that Anthoor municipal chairperson and CPM leader P K Shyamala be suspended and a case be slapped on her for abetting suicide following the death of NRI businessman Sajen Parayil in Kerala's Kannur district. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala also resigned as vice-chairman of Loka Kerala Sabha in protest against the government's handling of Sajen's suicide.
According to the opposition, it was the infighting in the Kannur unit of the CPM that led to Sajen's tragic fate. “P K Shyamala was angry because Sajen had gone to P Jayarajan asking for help,” opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said.
Minister for parliamentary affairs A K Balan said a case of unnatural death has already been registered by the police under Section 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code and an investigation is on. “When to charge a case for abetment or murder will be decided by this investigation,” Balan said.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan yet again heaped all the blame for Sajen's suicide on officials. He said a municipal secretary had sweeping powers and made it seem as if the political executive of the municipality could only look on as the secretary went about his whimsical ways.
“It is a problem with the Municipality Building rules,” the chief minister said. He gave a picture of a municipality secretary who was omnipotent, far above the reach of even his elected boss. “If there is a complaint against the decision of the secretary, the law states that an appeal can be filed only before a tribunal. The council concerned does not have the right to hear the appeal. This is an unfortunate situation,” the chief minister told the Assembly.
He even announced that two more tribunals would be set up, in Kochi and Kozhikode, to speed up the settlement of complaints that are piling up in the only tribunal in Thiruvananthapuram.
Are local body secretaries omnipotent?
Pinarayi Vijayan reeled out a number of sections - 390, 391, 395, 406 and 408 - of the Municipality Act that, according to him, gave the secretary such sweeping unquestionable powers. But he seemed strategically silent on Rule 15 of Kerala Municipality Building Rules, 1999. This rule contradicts what the chief minister stated.
If Vijayan's argument is that the council headed by the elected chairperson had no powers over the arbitrary decisions of the secretary, here is what Kerala Municipality Building Rules, 1999, say: “If the Secretary neither approves nor disapproves a building site, neither gives nor refuses permission to execute any work within thirty days from the date of receipt of the application, on the written request of the applicant, the Municipal Council (headed by the chairperson) shall be bound to determine whether such approval or permission should be given or not.”
The rules further say that if the council also fails to give a reply within 30 days of getting the complaint from the applicant, the permission should be deemed to have been given.
Muslim League MLA K M Shaji, while asking leave for an adjournment motion on the issue, said Sajen was hunted down just because the NRI businessman sought P Jayarajan's help. He said Sajen's wife Beena had told opposition leaders who visited the bereaved family on June 23 that her husband was worried after he attended the marriage of Jayarajan's daughter.
“Sajen came back and told his wife that since the other group in the party had seen him at the wedding, his files will not move,” Shaji said. “It is a strange situation. You will be killed if you either seek Jayarajan's help or go against him,” he added.
Shaji said the chairperson made Sajen constantly visit the municipality. “On his 19th visit, the chairperson told him that as long as she was the chairperson he would not get the occupancy certificate for his convention centre,” Shaji said. And on his 20th visit, Shaji said the chairperson told Sajen that his building would stand as a monument.
“Sajen's wife told us that he came back dejected. She then told her husband that she would go and touch Shyamala's feet and plead for help if that was what she wanted. Reluctantly, Sajen asked her to meet Shyamala. But in the night, he said no. He knew his wife, too, would be disgraced,” Shaji said.
The chief minister, in his reply, sounded as though he was pained by the disparaging remarks made by the opposition against P Jayarajan and M V Govindan. “I find there is an attempt to use P Jayarajan to attack the CPM,” Pinarayi Vijayan said. There was a veiled but unmistakable reference to his faction war with V S Achuthanandan, too. “Even before, there were attempts to use certain idols to undermine the CPM. The CPM was not destroyed by such tactics,” he said.
He side-stepped any reference to P K Shyamala and got all emotional about P Jayarajan. “Jayarajan is someone who cannot hold a pen with his hands. All of us eat with our hands. Not Jayarajan. You know why? Just because he was a senior CPM leader he was subjected to the most brutal attack by the RSS,” he said.
The chief minister also made it seem as if the opposition had attacked the integrity of senior CPM leader M V Govindan, the husband of P K Shyamala. The opposition mentioned Govindan just once, when Shaji made his case. He only said the Anthoor area is a place where the writ of M V Govindan and P K Shyamala runs.
“Can anyone say anything bad against M V Govindan,” the chief minister asked rhetorically. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said none of the opposition members had said anything bad about top CPM leaders. “We were just speaking about P K Shyamala, and that too what was told us by Sajen's wife,” Chennithala said.