Kasaragod: "I expected a drizzle, but was overwhelmed by the downpour," said Congress state president K Sudhakaran.
He was speaking at the end of the Congress's 'Janakiya Charcha Sadas' to receive complaints from common people in Kasaragod on Saturday, February 10.
The event -- part of the party's Samaragni People's Protest Yatra -- is being pegged as an antithesis to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's Nava Kerala Sadas where he interacted only "prominent citizens" and did not meet common petitioners.
"People from all walks of life have complaints about the government. UDF has assured to do all possible help if it comes to power," said Sudhakaran. "When the Chief Minister met the rich, we interacted with the common people," he said.
Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan and Sudhakaran, captaining the Samaragni Yatra, heard out the complainants from 12 broad sectors and received petitions from them.
"We will make the complaints received here into a document and launch a special separate agitation for Kasaragod district," said Satheesan. "As opposition, we have some limitations but also a few privileges. We will strongly raise these issues in the Assembly... We will also take up the complaints with the departments and officials concerned," he said.
From tribespeople denied grants and houses to endosulfan-affected families seeking treatment; from theyyam artistes not getting their dues to farmers caught in conflict with wild animals; and from anganwadi workers demanding their honorarium and pension to PSU employees not given salaries, the two Congress leaders heard them all and gave them hope.
No grants for Adivasi students
The Oommen Chandy government sanctioned land to 600 applicants under the 'Ashikkum Bhoomi Adivasikku' scheme. But the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government did not honour the commitment, said R Ratheesh (31), a tribes leader and Congress panchayat member from Periya's Kalliyot.
He said the LDF government's decision to club all housing schemes under LIFE Mission affected the tribes the most because the government had not released funds for the past seven months. "Now more than 3,000 Adivasi applications for houses are pending in Kasaragod," he said.
Ratheesh said the government had not released grants and scholarships to undergraduate and postgraduate Adivasi students since January 2023. Day scholars' allowances, hotel fees, and pocket money, which are paid directly to students, have not been given for more than a year, he said.
He also demanded reservation in government-funded educational institutions and caste census.
Theyyam performers denied assistance
Acharasthanikar and koladharikal -- people associated with theyyam ritual art -- have not received the government's financial assistance for the past eight months. Speaking on their behalf, E Pramod 'Komaram' said the LDF government increased the financial assistance to Rs 1,600 from Rs 1,400 in the 2024-2025 budget. "But the government set aside only Rs 1.25 crore, which is enough only for four months," said Pramod.
In Kannur and Kasaragod, there are around 500 sacred groves (kavu) or shrines which have 1,860 'acharasthanikar', mostly from other backward communities, and 350 koladharikal who perform 'theyyam'. Koladharikal are from Scheduled Caste communities. Around 500 new applications for acharasthanikar and 100 for koladharikal have been pending for a long. "Acharasthanikar and koladharikal do community service but they do not have a social life and lead a frugal life," said Pramod.
He demanded that the financial assistance should be increased to Rs 2,000, made into a proper scheme, and the payment be made monthly. It should not be a favour or gift to be released during Onam or Vishu," he said.
National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements' Sunny Paikada said the price crash in farm produce and the man-animal conflict are the two biggest challenges facing farmers. "The government's only thought is how to save the lives of wild animals. It has no interest for farmers," he said. If the forest laws can be amended for the benefit of corporate houses, why cannot the government amend the laws for the benefit of the farmers, he asked.
Anganwadi workers' dues ballooned to Rs 36,000
After 2016, the government has not increased a single rupee in the salary of anganwadi workers, said Kammadathu who retired in 2023 after 42 years in service. "Every year, the government announces an increase of Rs 1,000 in our salaries but never releases it," she said. On the eve of Nava Kerala Sadas, the government announced another increase of Rs 1,000, she said. The announcements are used as leverage to force anganwadi workers to attend political events, she said. "Anganwadi workers attend these events because their money is with the government. Now the arrears have increased to Rs 36,000," Kammadathu said and asked Satheesan and Sudhakaran to help get their dues.
She said anganwadi workers are also forced to contribute to the welfare fund boards till they are 62 years old while all other workers contribute only till 60 years. "I retired one year ago but have not received a single rupee as pension. I have no savings. My first salary was Rs 175 and my last salary was just Rs 11,800 per month," she said.
No salary at KEL-EML
Nearly two years after taking over KEL-Electrical Machines Limited (KEL-EML) from BHEL with much fanfare, the state government has defaulted on paying employees salaries. "We have not got our salaries for the past three years," said Pavithran, an employee of the unit that makes generators in Kasaragod.
When Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the unit on April 1, 2022, he announced a Rs 77 crore revival package. Later another Rs 10 crore was announced in last year's budget and Rs 6.5 crore in this year's budget. "But till now the government has released only Rs 27.8 crore which went into restarting the unit," he said. "The employees' salary arrears, gratuity and pension and provident fund have not been released," he said.
'Give welfare board membership to daughters of fishermen'
Shailaja, a fisherwoman, made an impassioned plea to allow the daughters of fishermen to join the welfare fund board. "My daughter-in-law's father is no more and her mother is a cancer patient. The family is struggling without any financial support for treatment," she said.
She said the LDF government stopped the free ration provided when the trawling ban was in place. The ration was introduced by the Oommen Chandy government, she said.