In a setback to Kerala's Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front government, Transport Minister Thomas Chandy, who is accused of land encroachment for his luxury resort, on Wednesday resigned from the cabinet -- the third minister to quit in 18 months since it came to power.
The resignation of Chandy, a Nationalist Congress Party MLA, comes a day after the Kerala high court rejected his plea to quash an inquiry report which indicted him in connection with the land grab allegations.
The high court on Tuesday made scathing remarks against Chandy, a businessman-turned politician, and dismissed his petition challenging the report of Alappuzha District Collector on the alleged encroachments by the resort.
Alappuzha District Collector T V Anupama, who was directed by the state government to look into the allegations, in her report has stated that large scale violations of Kerala Land Conservation Act and Conservation of Paddy land and Wetland Act had been committed by the resort.
Chandy is the third minister to quit the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet which came to power in May 2016.
Earlier, A K Saseendran of the NCP had resigned after a sleaze audio clip with a woman went viral and E P Jayarajan (CPI-M) quit on nepotism charges.
The land encroachment allegations brought to fore differences in the ruling LDF with the Communist Party of India, the second largest partner of the front, asking its four ministers to stay away from a cabinet meeting held earlier in the day if Chandy attended it.
Chandy, who left for Alappuzha after attending the cabinet meeting, told Mathrubhumi television channel that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had not asked for his resignation and that there was no circumstances for the same.
However, a coalition partner's (CPI) 'adamant stand made the CM to ask me to rethink', he said.
"The chief minister said we are not asking you to resign, but take a decision after consulting with your leadership," Chandy said.
Vijayan described the partner's move as 'unprecedented', but the CPI maintained that the ministers kept away in line with the decision of the party, which took a stand that Chandy should quit and no more time should be given to the NCP to take the decision.
Soon after the cabinet meeting, Vijayan told reporters that it had been left to the NCP to take a decision on the resignation keeping in mind coalition principles.
Hours later, NCP state President T P Peethambaran Master handed over Chandy's resignation letter to the CM which was forwarded to the Governor for acceptance.
Peethambaran told reporters that the resignation letter was handed over after consulting the NCP national leadership.
Chandy, had been facing heat after allegations surfaced that his company had violated rules to construct a parking area and a road through a paddy field to his Lake Palace Resort in Alappuzha District.
Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party had been on a warpath since the past one month demanding Chandy's resignation over the land encroachment allegations.
When the allegations first surfaced in the media three months ago, a defiant Chandy had declared in the assembly he would quit public life if it was proved that he had encroached even an inch of land.
But the going became difficult for the NCP leader, after Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan sought a detailed report from the district collector on the matter.
With the collector's report going against him, Chandy moved the high court challenging it and pressing for expunging any reference to him. He roped in senior lawyer and Congress MP from Madhya Pradesh Vivek Tankha to argue the case for him.
However, in a setback to the minister, a division bench rapped him for filing a petition against his own government.
Making stinging observations, the bench comprising Justices P N Raveendran and Devan Ramachandran held that a minister cannot file petition against his own government and there was a violation of the collective cabinet responsibility by Chandy.
A three-time MLA of the NCP, Chandy had been inducted into the Cabinet eight months ago following the resignation of Saseendran. The NCP has two MLAs in the state.