Singhvi defends Kerala lottery distributor, upsets Congress

While the state Congress has decided to complain to the party high command in New Delhi, Singhvi was shown black flags by Youth Congress workers as he came out from the court here.

Singhvi appeared before the Kerala High Court Wednesday for Megha Distributors, owned by Santiago Martin, against the recent state government's ordinance to amend the Paper Lotteries Act, which has  provisions including for hiking the tax on lotteries.

"His decision to appear for Megha Distributors was inappropriate. We will approach party high command against Singhvi. It cannot be justified," said V.D. Satheeshan, a Congress legislator who has been fighting against the alleged "CPI-M-lottery mafia link", in Thiruvananthapuram.

But Singhvi defended himself. "I am here as a lawyer and that is my profession...I am not here as Congress spokesperson."

When contacted, Congress officials in New Delhi said they were not aware of the matter.
The Congress in Kerala has been vigorously campaigning against the "illegal" Sikkim and Bhutan lotteries whose tiockets are sold in the state, alleging that the CPI-M-led state government was helping Megha Distributors.

With the local body elections round the corner in the state, the Congress-led opposition has been campaigning against the lotteries from outside the state, which have been allegedly making Rs.14,000 crore annually.

The opposition alleges that the lotteries from other states are sold without any checks on the number of tickets sold, the draws announced and the sales tax they are required to pay.

Last month, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala urged the CPI-M politburo to make its stand clear on the lottery issue.
Addressing party workers in Thrissur recently, Chennithala said: "Santiago Martin, lottery distributor and a close associate of the CPI-M, controls the lottery business in both Kerala and West Bengal."

He also claimed that the sale of Sikkim and Bhutan lotteries fell in Kerala by 30 percent following a Congress campaign against "illegal lotteries".

Inside the court, Singhvi lashed out at the state government for bringing an ordinance that is against the Central Lottery Act passed by the central government this year and pointed out that it was a clear violation of the constitution by the state government.
Leader of opposition Oommen Chandy also said that the matter would be taken up at the highest level of the party.

"As a lawyer one can appear in any case, but him (Singhvi) appearing in a case that the Congress here has taken up in a big way was not right...We will bring this to the attention of the higher-ups in the party," said Chandy.

Finance Minister Thomas Isaac lost no time to hit out at the Congress.
"The Congress-led UDF (United Democratic Front) will have a lot of explanation to do in the coming days as it has become crystal clear that it is the Congress that has links with the lottery mafia. Chandy has to answer the people of Kerala," Isaac said at a press conference in Thiruvananthpuram.

Singhvi is expected  now to appear in court again Thursday -- this time for Bhutan Lotteries.

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