Kerala says budget leak ‘storm in tea cup’, opposition eyes legal steps

Thiruvananthapuram, March 6 (IANS) Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday ruled out the dismissal of Finance Minister Thomas Issac over the state budget leakage, but the Congress-led opposition said they will now take legal action.

“No wrong has been done and it is nothing beyond a storm in the tea cup. The staff of the minister who did it has been moved out and the Chief Secretary has already submitted an interim report stating there has been no leak at all,” Vijayan said.

Since Friday, the opposition has been up in arms and demanding the resignation of Issac after the budget highlights prepared by his office for easy reference reached the media, a little after Issac began his budget speech.

The opposition asked how did a vernacular daily Metro Vartha on Friday, a day before the budget was presented, come out with news of an amnesty scheme and tax concessions, which contained the exact words as in Issac’s budget.

On Monday, senior Congress leader V.D. Sateeshan sought leave for an adjournment motion as such a situation has never happened before.

“Issac is trying to wriggle out of this goof-up by putting the entire blame on his staff, who has been moved out. It must not be forgotten that budget papers are not a ‘toy’ to be given to staff, when the only person who is told about the entire budget is the Chief Minister,” Sateeshan said.

“Issac is directly responsible for this and has violated the oath of secrecy besides a breach of privilege of the house,” he added.

Sismissing the allegations, Issac on Monday said in the assembly that neither the annual financial statement nor 30 classified documents associated with the budget were leaked.

“What appeared in the vernacular daily had already appeared in the Governor’s address and was also mentioned in various interactions and meetings. No loss to the state government has occurred with what has happened as pointed out by the opposition,” Issac said.

“There has been no wilful act done by the staff nor is there any criminal intent,” he stressed.

Unhappy with the response, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that what has happened is of a very serious nature as there has been a criminal intent, with cyber space being used.

“This is a violation of the Official Secrets Act and it is going to have large-scale legal ramifications. The least we expected from Issac and Vijayan was an apology to what happened,” Chennithala added.

The opposition staged a noisy protest, forcing speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan to adjourn the house briefly.

Later when the house re-assembled, Vijayan assured that the Chief Secretary’s full report is expected shortly and once that comes, the cabinet will discuss it in the house.

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told IANS now that Vijayan has said he will come back again with the report, the opposition will wait for it and, in the meanwhile, will seek legal advice on what happened on budget day.

–IANS

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