There was an outpouring of grievances at Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's mass contact programme
‘Development’ came visiting twice in 70-year-old Gopalan’s life. The first time was way back in 2000 when land acquisition for road widening at Karamana swallowed up his tailoring shop. The second one happened recently when the land where he relocated near Tali was marked for acquisition for yet another road expansion.
Standing in queue to meet Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and present his grievance as part of the second phase of the mass contact programme here on Friday, he said this was the last straw.
“I am yet to receive compensation for the land which was acquired 13 years ago. Now, they have come back to steal my livelihood again. I have lost hope after knocking on all possible doors,” Mr. Gopalan said.
The queue to meet the Chief Minister, winding almost to the Central Stadium exit, had people with a wide variety of grievances, the most common ones being requests for medical aid and conversion of ration card from Above the Poverty Line (APL) to Below the Poverty Line (BPL).
For 85-year-old Parukutti Amma and her daughter from Pothencode, the promise of financial aid from the panchayat for building a house turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing.
“In 2003, we built a small house by borrowing Rs.2 lakh from private parties after the panchayat authorities said that they would sanction the money once the house is built. But we were paid only Rs.1.2 lakh citing lack of funds, and now we are being troubled by those who lent us money. Hope the Chief Minister sanctions the rest of the funds,” she said.
A peculiar case was that of P. Madhusoodhanan from Nedumangad, who was here to ascertain the rights to farm on his own land.
“Many generations of my family have been cultivating on that piece of land in Nedumangad. But after I shifted my residence to Tirumala a few years ago, all the benefits available to farmers from the panchayat were stopped. This is happening at a time when the government claims to promote farming,” Mr. Madhusoodhanan said.
Among those queuing up were members of a residents’ association from Vizhinjam who were here to demand a street light at the Vizhinjam junction.
“We witness a number of accidents daily at this junction where five roads meet. It’s been a long-standing demand of the people here,” Daulat Shah, president of the association, said.
A large number of the requests for medical aid were for disabilities caused by accidents or diseases. Amounts corresponding to the severity of these difficulties were sanctioned on the spot, and cheques were provided from separate counters provided for each taluk.
Several of those who came with requests for conversion of ration cards to BPL had got it converted during the first phase of the mass contact programme but failed to get any benefits.
“We had got the BPL seal on our ration cards as per the Chief Minister’s order. But the ration shops refuse to give us any of the BPL benefits saying that they will be given only to those with pink cards. How can they call us APL when we survive on MGNREGS wages?” asked S. Shobha from Chirayinkeezhu, who came with five of her neighbours having the same problem.
Through the day, officials of various departments were on their toes as they were randomly called on stage, depending on the issue being dealt with. The people in the queue had a hard time till afternoon owing to the scorching heat and lack of arrangements for drinking water. The afternoon drizzle came as a respite for them.