When a natural calamity or disaster strikes, the Red Cross is always there to provide relief to the victims.

But the Red Cross itself is struggling for survival in Madurai.

The Indian Red Cross Society’s Madurai District Branch is beset by scarcity of funds and the lack of dedicated volunteers. Severely downsized, the organisation is able to pursue just its flagship programme, the Voluntary Blood Donation Movement. On an average, the Madurai Branch conducts 80 blood donation camps annually, collecting 6,000 units of blood.

Staff morale is low. V.M.Jose, secretary of the Madurai Branch of the Red Cross, which functions from a small office at the Collectorate here, told The Hindu on Wednesday: “We are getting a monthly interest of Rs.6,500 from the Rs.12 lakh deposited in three banks. But the salary we have to pay to three office employees is Rs.13,000.”

The Madurai Branch has 1,200 members, most of whom are not engaged in full-time field activity. According to its chairman-designate Pugalagiri Vadamalayan, there is no proper guidance given to the members for field work. “We have to conduct the annual general meeting and elect new office-bearers to lift the morale of the members,” he noted.

At the office entrance is a board which reads: “Please help the Red Cross with a donation and by enrolling as a member.” But the response is not encouraging. Mr.Jose, who claimed to have donated blood 154 times, said blood donation camps and other minor activities were being managed through contributions from well-wishers and friends. “Thirty per cent of the membership fee we collect has to be sent to the State Branch in Chennai,” he said.

Mr.Jose complained that the district administration had extended only token support to the Red Cross in the last three years.

“We want to establish a home for abandoned people and take up permanent projects. But this cannot be done unless a corpus fund is created with the support of donors,” Mr.Jose points out.

The Red Cross branch in Madurai is hoping to cover the Rs. 30,000 shortfall in meeting its overheads by stepping up the enrolment of members. The fee collected to admit a life member is Rs.500, life patron Rs.20,000 and vice-patron Rs.10,000. The institutional membership fee is Rs.5,000 per year.

Says M.Gopalakrishnan, joint-secretary, “All eyes are on the Collector now. As president of the Red Cross Madurai Branch, he has to take prompt corrective measures.”

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