No endosulfan pension for 7 months, woman with 2 children gives up rented house near school

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Kasaragod: After keeping the 6,603 endosulfan survivors waiting for seven months, the LDF government in Kerala has given administrative sanction to release Rs 11 crore to clear their pension arrears since April.

"We got the order from the Department of Social Justice today (November 2)," said an official of Kerala Social Security Mission (KSSM) in Thiruvananthapuram. "But it may take at least three days for us to get the money, depending on the availability of funds, and another seven days for the beneficiaries to get the pension in their bank accounts," he told Onmanorama.

K Rasiya has two endosulfan-affected children -- a 26-year-old son and a 24-year-old daughter. Photo: Special Arrangement

Back in Kasaragod, endosulfan-affected families said it was their longest wait for the monthly pension. "We did not get pension even during Onam when the government dolled out allowances to almost all people in the state," said Rasiya K (50), a resident of Kalichanadukam, 16km from Nileshwar town.

Her two endosulfan-affected children -- a 26-year-old son and a 24-year-old daughter -- are blind, paralysed waist down, and are dependent on her.

"With these two children at home, I cannot go out and work. Their pension is my only income," said Rasiya. The delay in pension is causing unmitigated hardship and humiliation to the affected families.

Manjula P (36), a resident of Badiadka grama panchayat, is blind and dependent on her sons, aged 14 and 12 years, to take her around. After the government started delaying the monthly pension of Rs 2,200, she was forced to give up her rented house near her sons' school at Ukkinadka and move in with her mother Lalitha (59) in Badiadka. (The rent was Rs 2,500.)

Earlier, her sons in classes IX and VI could go to and return from school in a line bus for Rs 8. Now, they need Rs 20 each as bus fare. Their grandmother Lalitha, who works in private arecanut plantations, gives them the money. "My little one tells me his friends get pocket money to buy sweets. I tell him to be grateful for getting the bus fare to go to school," says Manjula.

Her husband abandoned her when her eyesight started deteriorating. Now, she feels the government has also abandoned her.

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan. Photo: Manorama

The last time the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government gave pensions to endosulfan-affected families was in March. "Then we got three months' pension together. After that, whenever we inquire with the endosulfan cell, the officials say the government does not have money," said Naseem Sheikh (38), mother of two ailing children in Badiadka.

The Special Cell For Rehabilitation of Endosulfan Victims is the government's agency reviewing and coordinating the rehabilitation work and has people's representatives, officials, survivors, and activists as members. Minister for Tourism and Public Works P A Mohammed Riyas is the chairman of the cell. "The cell has not met for the past eight months because Riyas does not have time," said activist Ambalathara Kunhikrishnan.

Minister for Tourism and Public Works Mohammed Riyas. Photo: Manorama

Naseem's 20-year-old son, an undergraduate in computer application, was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a brain tumour, and underwent neurosurgery at Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences in Thiruvananthapuram. "He used to collapse every five minutes. After surgery, the frequency has reduced to once in a week or so," she said. The government has identified him as an endosulfan patient and gives him a monthly pension of Rs 1,200.

Naseem's daughter (17), a bright class XII student, was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis when she was four years old. The tissues in the lungs get thick and stiff, making breathing difficult.

Every month, Naseem takes her daughter to a private hospital in Mangaluru for treatment and has an expense of Rs 4,000. The daughter gets no assistance from the government. "With all these difficulties, we don't ask for money from others. We depend on the government," said Naseem.

The pension may appear less to others but it is a relief to the affected families, said Vineetha, a resident of Periyattadukkam near Periya. Her only child is diagnosed with an intellectual disability and identified as an endosulfan-affected patient. Every month, she has to take the boy to the neurologist in a private hospital in Kasaragod, 16 km away. "He has hyperactivity disorder and cannot travel on the bus. The autorickshaw charges Rs 900 and the consultation fee is Rs 520," she said. "I wish the government was regular with disbursing the pension. It is a solace," said Vineetha, whose son is entitled to get Rs 1,700 per month.

Special educators also not paid
The government has also not given salaries to 37 special educators, therapists, and ayahs (nannies) of the 10 Model Child Rehabilitation Centres (MCRC) in Kasaragod, where most of the children are endosulfan survivors.

An endosulfan victim with his mother in Thathengalam. File photo: Manorama

Special educators and therapists have a monthly salary of Rs 21,175 and the ayahs have a salary of Rs 15,000. Their salaries are disbursed by the Kerala Social Security Mission. In MCRCs and BUDS schools for children with learning disabilities staff are appointed by the local bodies and KSSM. The panchayat-appointed staff always get their salaries on time, said teachers. "We have not got our salaries in June, July, August, September, and October," said a special educator.

The government has been irregular in paying their salaries since 2022 Onam.

This Onam too, the government did not release their salaries or endosulfan pensions when it spent Rs 18,000 crore as allowances and released welfare funds to "priority" segments of society. "We may not be a priority," said Rasiya, mother of two endosulfan-affected children in Nileshwar.

Only Rs 90 lakh needed for endosulfan pensions
Even now, when the government is "splurging" Rs 27 crore -- to borrow Opposition leader V D Satheesan's word -- on 'Karaleeyam 2023', a seven-day event showcasing Kerala to the world, it did not find money to pay the pension to endosulfan survivors on Kerala Piravi day (November 1).

Opposition Leader V D Satheesan. Photo: Manorama

According to an official, the government would need Rs 90 lakh every month to give pensions to endosulfan survivors. The Rs 90 lakh includes the Rs 5 lakh needed to pay Rs 700 each to the caregivers of endosulfan victims who are bedridden or intellectually challenged under a scheme called Aswasakiranam.

Mothers of endosulfan victims said they have not received the Rs 700 allowance for the past two years.

Under the Kerala Social Security Mission's Sneha Santhwanam scheme, a monthly pension of Rs 2,200 is given to endosulfan survivors with intellectual disabilities, paralysis, and serious ailments; if they are getting a disabilities pension, they would be given Rs 1,700 per month; all the other endosulfan survivors identified by the government would get Rs 1,200 per month.

For 20 years, till 2000, the government-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala had been aerially spraying the endosulfan pesticide on cashew plantations in 11 panchayats of Kasaragod. The long exposure to the pesticide has affected thousands of residents, and animals and changed the behaviours of bees.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court on a petition filed by the CPM's youth organisation DYFI, directed the state government to give a compensation of "Rs 5 lakh each to all affected persons in three months".

The same order said the state government was free to "recover the aforestated compensation from the industry concerned or the government of India, in case it is open to the state governments to make such recovery, in consonance with the law".

Instead of three months, the state government took more than five years, and three contempt of court petitions to give the compensation. The government has filed a case making around 15 pesticide companies as respondents in the munsif court in Thiruvananthapuram in 2019.

The state government would have no financial burden if it recovered the money from the pesticide manufacturers or the Union government if the companies did not pay, he said.

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