Thiruvananthapuram: In a setback for the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala days before crucial civic elections, a court has ordered more investigations into allegations that state's Finance Minister KM Mani accepted a bribe of one crore promising to renew bar licences last year.
"I welcome this verdict on further investigations. I should be proved innocent without any doubt," said Mr Mani, 82, the chief of the Kerala Congress(M), one of the Congress's seven allies in Kerala.
Backing Mr Mani, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy today said, "Reopening of investigation ordered by the court is a routine exercise in legal proceedings."
But Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan of the Left said Mr Mani must resign. "He has no moral grounds to continue in power," said the 93-year-old Mr Achuthanandan, who had, along with 15 others, filed a petition against the state vigilance and anti-corruption bureau's request to close the case against Mr Mani.
Among those who petitioned against a closure of the case was hotelier Biju Ramesh, who has accused the finance minister of demanding a bribe of five crore and eventually accepting one crore from bar owners, promising to renew licences of bars that were meant to be shut down after a ban in the state.
Mr Ramesh has said that desperate bar owners had collected the one crore, though some of them later said the money was gathered to fight the ban on bars in court.
The vigilance bureau, which had registered a case against Mr Mani last year, had told the court in July this year that there was not enough evidence to file a charge sheet against him. It said after investigations that while bar owners had visited the minister's residence with the money, there was no evidence to prove that he had taken a bribe.
The order to re-open investigation comes just as the state heads into civic polls seen as a semi-final before assembly elections next year. The Congress-led Oommen Chandy government in Kerala has a razor thin majority in the current assembly.
The opposition has been clamouring for the finance minister's resignation ever since the allegations were made in November 2014. Left Democratic Front lawmakers had tried to prevent Mr Mani from presenting the state's Budget in March this year, turning the state assembly into a battlefield with chairs and mics ripped out and scuffles between members of the two sides.