Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's mass contact programme provided relief to people who were in desperate need of it
Photo: A paralysed S. Pushparaj with Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Pic by Manu R. Mavelil
By Shevlin Sebastian
S.R. Lenin sticks a white flag, with the letters 'DYFI' (Democratic Youth Federation of India) in red, onto the police barricade, about half a kilometre from the Central Stadium at Thiruvananthapuram where the mass contact programme (Jana Samparka Paripadi) by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is taking place.
His colleagues, who are wearing T-shirts and jeans, shout slogans against the Chief Minister. “Chandy is corrupt,” says S. Mahesh, a DYFI member. “He should resign. This mass contact programme is a gimmick. The people are standing in the sun for so long and they will get nothing.”
“So what is your plan of action?” asks an onlooker.
“The first step is to bring down this barricade,” says Mahesh,
Standing at some distance away is a complacent-looking N. Radhakrishnan, Assistant Sub Inspector, who says, “Everything is under control. We expect no
And that turns out to be true. The Left Democratic Front protest against the Chief Minister fizzles out by noon.
Inside the stadium, a large shamiama has been put up and people wait patiently on red plastic chairs. On the stage sits Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, along with ministerial colleagues, KC Joseph, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, K. Babu, and V S Sivakumar. In a nice touch, there is a row of marigolds and sunflowers placed on the edge of the stage.
“Please come, please come,” the Chief Minister says, beckoning to a line of petitioners. Immediately, B. Lalkumar, a grey-haired man, is carried forward by two men, on a plastic chair. “I used to work as a labourer,” he tells the chief minister. “Five years ago, I fell from a tree, while plucking pepper, and became paralysed from the waist down. Please help me.”
Chandy asks a few questions, nods silently, writes Rs 50,000 on the petition, and signs his name with a flourish. Away from the stage, Lalkumar smiles, and says, “This is a great programme for poor people like me. We get an immediate relief.” Yes, indeed, when Lalkumar's relatives go to a counter manned by the Collector's staff, they are handed over a cheque.
Soon, the crowd gasps when a stretcher – its four ends held by Kerala Police constables – is brought and placed on the table in front of Chandy. On it lies S. Pushparaj, 38, in a striped black and white shirt and white dhoti. Like Lalkumar, he has been paralysed following a fall from a coconut tree. His three sons, Sujith, 11, Ajit, 10, and Prajith, 8, stand next to their father.
“We have no income,” says Pushparaj's wife Geeta. “We depend on relatives and neighbours to survive.” This time, Chandy is clearly moved. He writes Rs 1 lakh on the sheet, and a transfer of the ration card from Above to Below Poverty Line.
And so it goes, victim after victim, coming in front of a chief minister, who clearly has his heart in the right place, and immediate relief is granted to those whose lives have been blighted by misfortune, bad luck, and senseless tragedy.
Even the hardened police are moved. “I am shocked to see so many people face financial problems, and thus have an inability to avail of medical facilities,” says a woman sub-inspector, who does not wish to be identified. “There are so many poor people in Kerala. I feel sad at their plight, but this is a wonderful programme.”
So how does the system work? This particular programme is only for the people of Thiruvanthapuram district. “By early July, 14,957 petitions were received online,” says S. Gopakumar, Group Head (Technology), of the Centre for Development of Imaging Technology, which is handling the software.
“Following recommendations from the taluk and district level, the most meritorious cases have been whittled down to about 500. Since Collectors can only clear a maximum of Rs 10,000, for financial assistance from the CM's Distress Relief Fund, and since these people need more help, they were recommended to meet the Chief Minister to get funds, ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. In total, Rs 1.53 crore has been disbursed today.”
A day later, at 8 a.m., on Saturday, at Cliff House, the Chief Minister's official residence, a beaming Oommen Chandy says, “Yesterday's programme was a grand success. In a mass contact programme, people think that those who get the benefits and the cash payments are the biggest beneficiaries. But that is not true. I am the biggest beneficiary. I became aware of so many problems of the people which I did not know about earlier. This has been the biggest experience of my career. Earlier, I did this exercise in all the 14 districts of Kerala. The knowledge I got about life has been the equivalent of reading 100 books.”
And Chandy is even more happy that the programme was a revelation to his fellow ministers. “Many of them told me that they did not know that so many people faced so many problems,” he says. “It is clear that this programme has to continue.”
(The Sunday Standard, New Delhi)