Thiruvananthapuram: Hit by the "bar bribe controversy", the Congress-led UDF Government in Kerala on Sunday announced a vigilance probe into the allegation by bar owners that state Finance Minister and Kerala Congress (M) supremo KM Mani had demanded a hefty sum for favourable decisions.
State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the Director of the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau had been asked to conduct a 'preliminary inquiry" into the allegation.
Chennithala told reporters in Thrissur that the decision was taken on the basis of a letter from CPI(M) veteran VS Achuthanandan in his capacity as Opposition Leader in the state assembly.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, while sticking to his stand that no one would believe that Mani would ask for bribe, said the probe announced by Chennithala was a "legal procedure."
Dubbing the decision as ploy to deflect public attention, Achuthanandan demanded a CBI inquiry into the issue to ensure a free and independent inquiry into the allegation.
Biju Ramesh, working President of Kerala Bar Hotels Association, alleged that Mani had taken Rs one crore and demanded Rs five crore on the promise of reopening 418 closed bars.
Reacting to the decision, Ramesh said only a CBI probe would be able to bring out the truth.
Mani, a veteran politician and supremo of Kerala Congress (M), a long-time partner of the Congress-led coalition, had yesterday rubbished the charge as "baseless."
In a significant move, the Chandy government a few months back ordered closure of all bars, except those attached to the five-star hotels. Earlier, the Government had declined to renew licences of 418 bars for lack of required facilities.
The issue had divided the UDF with KPCC president VM Sudheeran pitching for taking the state into total prohibition in a phased manner.
The bar owners had approached the Supreme Court against the government decision but the Apex Court referred back the case to the High Court.
Two days back, a division bench of the Kerala High Court stayed for a month an earlier single bench decision, which partly endorsed the government position on the issue.