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Former Kerala minister cleared of sexual harassment charges

Chennai/Kottayam (Kerala), May 11 (IANS) A Tamil Nadu court Monday acquitted former Kerala public works minister P.J. Joseph of charges that he had misbehaved with a woman passenger on a flight. Mons Joseph, who now holds the portfolio in the state government, said he would resign to enable his predecessor to return to the post.

The Sriperumbudur magistrate's court near Chennai acquitted P.J. Joseph in the sexual harassment case filed against him by television anchor Lakshmi Gopakumar in 2006.

While P.J. Joseph hailed God for the favourable verdict, Gopakumar's counsel said they would appeal against the decision.

Gopakumar had complained to the Chennai airport police, accusing P.J. Joseph of misbehaving with her on board a Kingfisher Airlines flight from Chennai to Kochi Aug 3, 2006.

Besides the Chennai airport police probe, the Kerala government had asked Inspector General of Police B. Sandhya to investigate the charges.

In her report late August 2006, Sandhya said the victim stood by her allegations and 'it was possible that such an act might have occurred on board'. The report ruled out any conspiracy theory as suggested by P.J. Joseph.

P.J. Joseph, the chairman of the Kerala Congress-Joseph, was replaced by T.U. Kuruvilla as public works minister in September 2006 after the former quit the cabinet over the misbehaviour allegations.

Mons Joseph took over from Kuruvilla, who also resigned in the wake of a land scam involving his children.

P.J. Jospeph's supporters took out a rally shouting slogans in favour of their leader in his hometown in Thodupuzha as soon as the news of the acquittal came.

Current Public Works Minister Mons Joseph addressed reporters in Kottayam in Kerala minutes after his party chairman P.J. Joseph got a clean chit and said he would step down.

'I informed the chairman that I am holding a press conference here to announce my decision to resign to make way for him. He said that he and his family were leaving on a pilgrimage to the Velankanni church (in Tamil Nadu),' Mons Joseph said.

'It is for the party to decide the future course of action but I am clear I will step down in favour of my party chairman. This acquittal is going to give a huge boost to our party,' he added.

Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said in Thiruvananthapuram: 'I am happy to hear about the acquittal. Whether or not he becomes minister has to be decided by his party and the LDF.'

Vaikom Viswan, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) convenor, told reporters in Kottayam that he welcomed P.J. Joseph's acquittal, but said his re-appointment as minister would be decided later.

'If Joseph will go on to become a minister (or not) will be decided later at the appropriate forum and cannot be disclosed now,' said Viswan.

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