Move appears to tighten tug of war between Centre, Kerala
The Assembly has reportedly issued a breach of privilege notice to the Customs (Preventive) probing the UAE consulate-linked gold smuggling case.
The election-eve development appeared to be a tautening of the protracted tug of war between the Centre and the State over the political impartiality of the agency. The notice appeared to reinforce the Left Democratic Front’s election narrative that the BJP had repeatedly used the Customs to denigrate the State government with an eye on the Assembly polls on April 6.
Central to the current development was a Customs summons to Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan’s additional private secretary K. Ayyappan in January. The Customs had indicated that it required Mr. Ayyapan’s presence for questioning purportedly in connection with a foreign currency smuggling racket involving some of the accused in the gold smuggling case.
The Legislature Secretariat insisted that the Customs required the Speaker’s prior consent to question any Assembly staff under clause 165 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Legislature. The Customs reverted that the article aimed to protect legislative privilege and not shield the guilty. The agency had summoned Mr. Ayyappan to fulfil its legal mandate.
The Customs also argued that it had used e-mail to serve the process to Mr. Ayyappan. The investigating agency required the Speaker’s consent only if it delivered the summons physically at the Assembly complex.
‘Holding in contempt’
CPI(M) legislator Raju Abraham took strong exception to the Custom’s "misinterpretation" of House rules.
He said it was tantamount to holding the legislature in contempt. Moreover, the Customs, he alleged, had breached legislative privilege by leaking its communication with the Assembly to the media.
Subsequently, the Ethics and Privileges Committee of the House took cognisance of Mr. Abraham’s grievance. The panel has invited the Customs to present its side of the case.
The Customs later served a summons to Mr. Ayyappan at his residence and also questioned him at its office in Kochi.
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