Friday, October 19, 2007

News and Views

A former senior bureaucrat of the Tamil Nadu government has been bringing out Kochi Vartha, a weekly newspaper, for the past four years

By Shevlin Sebastian

"One issue which I took up was the opening up of the Eastern entry of the Ernakulam junction (South) railway station," says P.C. Cyriac, 64, the editor of Kochi Vartha, a bilingual weekly newspaper. "Earlier, the commuters had only one option: to use the main entrance. So, most people, to reach the station, had to tackle the bottleneck of the South overbridge." Cyriac examined the situation and found that there was a four-storey building of the Greater Cochin Development Authority lying unused. "So, we started writing about how the Railways could rent out the building."

As a result of the campaign launched by Kochi Vartha, the mainstream newspapers got into the act. As a result, the Eastern entrance became a reality one and a half years later. Now, there is a large parking lot, a proper entrance, a new platform and people can now access the South station without the necessity of going over the bridge.

Another issue that was highlighted was the necessity of ward committees. "There is a provision in the Kerala Municipalities Act (Sections 42-47) which states that the corporation council has to set up ward committees in each ward," says Cyriac. The ward councillor would be the chairman, while representatives of the resident welfare associations would be members.

Kochi Varta highlighted this lacunae. "Even today, it has not been done properly, but, at least, they are making an effort," he says.

Kochi Vartha is a newspaper of eight pages. The first issue came out in June, 2003. Today, it has a print run of 10,000 copies, although the number of subscribers is only 1000. "I give away the rest of the copies free," he says. "I am dependent on the advertisement revenue to make up for this. On some issues, I break even, on others, I make a loss."

For subscribers, the copies are sent by post. The free copies are distributed through the presidents of Residents' Welfare Associations. "It ranges from 50 to 150 copies each," says Cyriac. Others are deposited in houses by a few boys.

So what do readers think of the paper? Says C.S. Verghese, a retired engineer from HMT: "No other paper has the time and the space to concentrate on the day-to-day problems that people face: the menace of mosquitoes, drainage problems, the poor state of the roads, water scarcity, pollution, and the inefficiency of the Cochin Corporation and other civic bodies. The other newspapers are concerned with big problems and national and international news."

Mathew Joseph Moozhayil, 62, President of the Cochin Citizen's Forum, says that the paper points out many drawbacks of the Cochin Corporation. "Nowadays, officials of the corporation are listening to the views of Kochi Vartha. However, the one drawback is that the paper gives undue importance to films, and half a page is devoted to a quiz."

These are minor irritants for most readers who hold the editor in great respect. Not many people know that Cyriac has had a distinguished career in the Tamil Nadu government. This IAS officer had served as a secretary in various departments like transport, industry, local administration and sales tax. He was the Commercial Tax Commissioner and the chairman of the Tamil Nadu State Electricity Board, apart from several public sector companies. He had a brief stint outside the state when he was appointed the Chairman of the Rubber Board (1985-90). Later, he fell out with then Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa over the controversy over the Pleasant Hotel in Kodaikanal.

After getting permission to build a two-storey building, the promoters constructed a seven-storey building. Cyriac raised objections and Jayalalithaa transferred him to an obscure post. Later, he was vindicated when the Supreme Court passed strictures against the administration. But Cyriac, who had reached the Chief Secretary's grade by then, opted for voluntary retirement in 2002, two years before schedule.

So, does that mean it is not possible to be morally upright in an environment of pervasive corruption? "If the Chief Minister passes a wrong order, the Secretary has the option to point it out and propose a reconsideration," he says. "If the officer fails to do so, he will have only himself to blame. If you stick to your principles, the only problem is that you will have to face transfers. That should be taken in your stride."

Cyriac returned to Kerala and took over as the managing director of Jeevan TV. He was in charge for one and a half years before new investors came in and he decided to leave. It was then that he decided to start Kochi Vartha . So, how did somebody who had no experience in journalism decide to venture into the field? "I have been writing articles in Malayalam and Tamil for newspapers and magazines for several years," he says.

And so, this former government servant, who is also a director of the Federal Bank, is still serving the people by bringing out a newspaper highlighting the problems faced by the common man.

An uncommon man indeed!

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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