Curious case of vanishing 'memorial' funds

Representational image. Photo: Malayala Manorama.

The major political parties in Kerala are adept at sweeping under the carpet alleged incidents of swindling public funds. Any probe in such cases often hit a dead-end. When public money is collected, no questions are raised and no cases are charged by any party. This is Part 2 of Malayala Manorama series on 'Missing Party Funds'. Read Part 1 here: Where do funds raised by CPM, Congress vanish? Parties need no answer

Probity takes a backseat when funds raised through donations from the public -- collected on promises of constructing a fitting memorial for a deceased leader -- vanish into the thin air without a trace.

Similar is the case with funds raised for helping party workers' families, left without any support due to various reasons. Instances of such funds, too, disappearing is not rare in Kerala. There are also instances of funds raised for such purposes ending up in the personal accounts of leaders.

What tempts leaders to divert funds? It is apparently easy, and complaints are rarely lodged since funds are mostly collected without issuing receipts to the donors.

It is not funds for memorials and party workers' families that are misappropriated. Lakhs of rupees are raised -- much above the Election Commission stipulated amount -- during each election, and diverting a part of it are seldom questioned. The political party that has "lost" the amount, too, keeps mum and refrains from lodging a police complaint since the money raised is unaccountable. The party will initiate action -- often merely an eyewash -- only if it becomes a controversy.

Invisible memorial
One such memorial that never materialised is that of E Balanandan, the third Malayali to be included in the CPM politburo after AK Gopalan and EMS Namboodiripad. A research foundation was planned in memory of the deceased leader 12 years ago.

The party collected Rs 1.87 crore to construct the memorial. The 12 cents bought at North Kalamassery to construct the memorial, now lies in a state of neglect.

CPM flags at Marine Drive in Kochi. Photo: Manorama.

The fund raising drive for E Balanandan Research Foundation was clubbed with the campaign to build a memorial for former minister TK Ramakrishnan. The drive was successful. Of the Rs 2.75 crore collected, Rs 1.37 crore was provided to the Balanandan Research Foundation.

The LDF government later provided an additional Rs 50 lakh to construct a building for the foundation. There were plans to set up a resource centre and in future, a university in memory of Balanandan. The then CPM general secretary Prakash Karat laid the foundation stone for the memorial in 2011 October.

The party spent Rs 66 lakh for purchasing 12 cents at North Kalamassery at the rate of Rs 5.50 lakh per cent. The construction that began in 2018 stalled after the piling works. Now, the explanation is that the remaining fund has been completely utilised for organising seminars.

The TK Ramakrishnan memorial, too, is yet to materialise. The government had allocated land free of cost at Marine Drive in Ernakulam for the memorial. The party has been saying that the land got entangled in the Coastal Regulation Act. The party cadre "firmly believe" that the fund raised is secure with the organisation.

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The government, in fact, has spent the tax-payers' money for the memorials. Still, no probe has been ordered into the delay in constructing the memorials. The two budgets presented by the second Pinarayi government has earmarked Rs 6 crore for constructing memorials for three leaders.

Mystery, slow cooked in biryani deg
Chithra, a widow, and her two daughters live in a small room with a leaky roof near Cochin College at Koovapadam, awaiting the CPM's benevolence. The walls of a partially constructed structure, supposed to be their promised house, stand next to their dingy dwelling.

The CPM has collected funds for constructing their house for two years, which, if properly used, could have funded the construction of two houses.

Constructing a house for Chithra and daughters was included in the CPM's "Kanivu" scheme. KJ Maxi, MLA, laid the foundation stone for the house on June 29, 2020, with much fanfare.

Representational image. File Photo.

Chithra's husband was the sole breadwinner of the family, and after his death, she and her daughters were left without any support.

After the foundation stone was laid, the 21 branch committees under the CPM Panayappilly.local committee raised funds through donations. Each branch committee collected amounts ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000. The local committee, too, raised funds. The construction work stalled following the death of the then local committee secretary.

The party launched its second round of fund-raising drive in 2021 after the local committee got a new secretary. This time the party organised a biryani challenge to raise funds for Chithra's new house. The challenge, the party said, did not meet the desired end, since it could raise money only for procuring one truck load of rocks.

The CPM has now decided to go for yet another round of collection drive. Since the party had promised a house, Chithra could not benefit from the government's Life Mission.

Collection from biryani challenge
•Biryani sold for Rs 100 per packet

•Each branch had a target of 300 packets of biriyani. Based on the target, 6,300 packs of biryani were sold

•Biryani sold outside the branches: 1,000

•Going by this statistics, proceeds from the sale of 7,300 biryani packs is Rs 7.30 lakh

•Ingredients for preparing biryani were received as donations. Still, the party says the profit was only Rs 20,000.

Gazetted act
The State president, general secretary and treasurer are the authorised signatories of the pro-Congress Gazetted Officers' Union. Bank transactions could not be made without the signature of the treasurer.

The president, however, clandestinely transferred Rs 20 lakh to his own account. In their complaint lodged with the Thampanoor police, the general secretary and treasurer alleged that the president had forged the treasurer's signature to transfer the amount.

Police investigation revealed that deposits in the organisation's accounts in two banks -- Rs 11 lakh in the SBI's Puthenchantha branch and Rs 9 lakh from SS Kovil Road branch --- had been transferred to the president's personal account. Sensing that the case would raise a stink, KPCC leaders intervened and made the president return the money to the Union's accounts.

The president's justification for the act was that he had transferred the amount to his account to safeguard the money.

Zest and predicament
Following the murder of SFI leader M Abhimanyu in the Maharajas College in Ernakulam in July, 2018, two district committees of the CPM collected Rs 3.1 crore to support his family. The Ernakulam committee alone raised Rs 3.1 crore, besides receiving 16 rings, seven earrings, 12 gold coins, four bangles and a gold locket. A part of the money raised was utilised to provide financial aid to the slain student's family.

Abhimanyu, who was a degree student at Maharaja’s College and a member of SFI’s Idukki district committee, was killed during the early hours of July 2, 2018.

The zest with which the fund was raised was remarkable. The government, however, lacked the same spirit in arresting the murder-accused SDPI, Campus Front of India activists. The prime accused, Sahal Hamsa, surrendered before an Ernakulam court two years later in June 2020, ending the predicament of both the government and CPM.

Cash for contesting polls
Adivasi leader CK Janu was the NDA candidate in Bathery Assembly constituency in 2021. She has been accused of receiving Rs 35 lakh from the BJP to contest the election. The crime branch is set to submit a chargesheet in the case.

Court tells police to register case against Kerala BJP chief K Surendran
C K Janu and K Surendran. File photo

It has been alleged that BJP State president K Surendran gave Rs 10 lakh and district leader Prashanth Malavayal Rs 25 lakh to Janu ahead of the election.

Surendran has been named as the first accused in the case which has Janu and Prashanth as the second and third accused, respectively. Investigators said forensic tests revealed that the voice samples in audios made public matched with the voices of the accused.


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