It is ironical that a state that boasts of state-of-the-art government and private hospitals fails to find competent doctors within its own geographical limits to heal even diabetes-related complications of its top politicians. So is the case when it comes to legal matters—the Kerala government prefers lawyers from the national capital to protect the ruling party’s interest in cases of sensational political murders. Splurging colossal amounts of money from the public exchequer on medical and legal aid is quite regular with the Kerala government.
If the data available with the Information and Public Relations department (IPRD) of the Kerala government is any indication, it has become the norm among the state’s ministers and legislators to fly off to top hospitals in the United States of America (USA) even for minor treatments, disregarding the state’s achievements in sectors of public health and medical education. Politicians across the spectrum, and the Left leaders in particular, prefer the USA for medical treatment, as they take a temporary break from their routine anti-imperialistic rhetoric. (Don’t ask inconvenient questions like why they wouldn’t prefer to seek treatment in the Communist haven of Cuba instead, with all its reputation in the field of medicine.)
Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was the latest to find quality treatment for diabetes-related complications at Houston, in his capacity as a former legislator and state Home Minister. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and former Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, had availed treatment in the USA at government expenses in the recent months. However, nobody has broken the record set by former minister and LDF legislator Thomas Chandy, of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)—a millionaire himself—in getting medical reimbursements. The cost of his treatment in the United States was a whopping Rs 1.91 crores. The rationale of politicians trooping to foreign locales for treatment using public money disregarding Kerala’s achievements in healthcare and the state’s dire financial straits is lost on many.
And what is ailing the law colleges and legal education in the state? It’s true that Kerala has produced many a legal luminary who contributed immensely in interpreting laws and effectively ensuring criminal jurisprudence in the past. Even now, Kerala lawyers are considered among the best in the country. But it seems the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government does not have much trust in them.
The practice of engaging expensive lawyers from outside the state to appear in sensational cases ranging from corruption to political murders is now on the rise. Expensive lawyers, who were earlier engaged to argue cases in the Supreme Court, are now appearing regularly in the Kerala High Court and subordinate courts on sensational matters—despite the state having more than 90 lawyers on its payroll including the Advocate-General (A-G) and Director General of Prosecutions (DGP) to appear for it in different courts. The Advocate-General had even managed to corner a cabinet rank recently, using his clout with the Chief Minister.
It was only weeks ago the Home Department had issued an order approving Rs 25 lakh as fee for former solicitor-general Ranjith Kumar, who appeared in the Kerala High Court to argue against a CBI investigation into the sensational political double-murder case that rocked Kerala on 17 February 2019. Youth Congress workers Kripesh and Sharath Lal were hacked to death at Periya in Kasaragod just ahead of the last Lok Sabha election and the accused turned out to be CPI (M) members. The possibility of a CBI investigation was considered by the High Court after cancelling the chargesheet filed by the Kerala police citing lapses in the investigation. The government splurged public money to avert investigation in order to shield the perpetrators of the crime.
Hiring of expensive lawyers from Delhi began in the 2000s when Pinarayi Vijayan was named among the accused in the SNC-Lavalin corruption case. (He was exonerated later getting the benefit of doubt although an appeal against the discharge is still pending). The then LDF government had spent Rs 3.8 crore from the state exchequer to avail services of top lawyers to oppose a CBI investigation into the corruption case. Pinarayi Vijayan was not part of the government then but was the all-powerful State Secretary of the CPI (M). The legal luminaries couldn’t avert a CBI investigation into the matter though.
It then became a practice and expensive lawyers were hired to defend the state government in cases like the ice-cream parlour sex scandal, lottery scam, Muhammad Fazal murder case et al. After Pinarayi Vijayan became Chief Minister, these Delhi lawyers have begun frequenting Kochi to appear in the High Court.
The government had already courted controversy by spending more than Rs 50 lakh as fee to stall a CBI inquiry into the political murder of Youth Congress activist Shuhaib. Even in the latest double murder case, the state government has no qualms about spending of Rs 25 lakh to avert a CBI investigation. Spending such exorbitant amounts as legal fees by the government lacks any justification, although the motive appears to be to save the ruling party workers named in these cases.
This extravagance on legal fees comes in the midst of finance minister Thomas Issac’s warning of extreme financial crisis in the state. Many developmental, welfare projects and schemes are stalled due to lack of funds. Bills don’t get cleared and treasury restrictions have become the order of the day. But the government has enough money to dole out on legal eagles from Delhi to fight cases in a way that’s self-serving and not for the larger public interest.