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NRI suicide in Kerala: Fatal Denial

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The Kerala High Court registered a suo motu case after an NRI businessman committed suicide allegedly because he was denied clearances for a convention centre he had built at a cost of Rs 15 crore

 By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

One of the biggest ever grossers in Malayalam film history is the 1989 film Varavelpu (The Homecoming) in which Mollywood star Mohanlal acts as a Gulf returnee who burns his hand trying to run a business in Kerala and is eventually forced to return to the Gulf after losing all his money in the ill fated venture.

On June 18, 2019, life imitated art in Kerala in even more tragic fashion as Sajan Parayil, a 49-year-old expatriate industrialist who sank over Rs 16 crores to build a convention centre in his home town in Kannur district, took his life. Sajan was frustrated at his inability to get municipal approval for the building. The controversy that followed saw the Kerala High Court stepping in to suo motu initiate a case and direct the Anthoor municipality in Kannur to produce all documents in their possession related to the application for occupancy certificate to start operating the centre.

The usually arrogant CPI(M) leadership and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, chastened by the electoral setback last month, have started showing signs of nervousness. The High Court’s intervention and adverse remarks have turned out to be a major embarrassment to the ruling CPI(M) and its all-powerful chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan.

Sajan’s wife, Beena, his family members and employees have alleged that he was driven to suicide by the municipal authorities, especially the chairperson of the municipality, PK Syamala, who is the wife of senior CPI(M) leader MV Govindan Master. The reasons cited for denial of approval include insufficient number of wash basins, difference of one and half inch in the distance between two pillars in the basement and modifications in the slope leading to the ramp. Chief Justice Rishikesh Roy issued a direction to register a writ petition suo motu and the division bench comprising him and Justice AK Jayasankaran Nambiar decided to consider the case. “These are matters causing considerable hardship to persons investing money in projects. It will also send a bad message to prospective entrepreneurs. Unwanted political interventions also pose threats to developmental activities, even in the private sector,” the Court observed while initiating the proceedings.

According to the Court, there were reasons to believe that the obstinacy of the municipality was what triggered Sajan’s suicide. He had invested Rs 16 crore in his pet project named Partha Convention Centre. So far, there is nothing to show that he had not conformed to the approved plan. It is also a fact that in the days before he took his own life, Sajan had been running after the authorities to get clearance from the municipality.

While impleading the Anthoor Municipal Secretary, District Town Planner, Kannurm and the Kerala State Local Self Government Secretary as respondents, the Court observed: “It is unfortunate to see an investor being pushed to the brink by the insensitive attitude of the regulatory authorities.”

It seems the CPI(M) has learnt nothing from the disgraceful drubbing in the recent Lok Sabha polls. Though the LDF lost 19 out of 20 seats, its leadership as well as its cadres are reluctant to learn any lessons and continue to behave as arrogantly as the commissars of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Ironically, Sajan was a hardcore communist sympathiser, who slogged it out in Nigeria for over 15 years and built a fortune.

He believed that any venture that he sets up in his home district, a communist hotbed, would have the full support of the authorities as he had been a major benefactor of the party and was also close to its district leadership, especially P Jayarajan, Chief Minister Vijayan’s Man Friday. But little did Sajan know that factionalism, the bane of mainstream parties, had gripped the CPI(M) too.

It perhaps played a role in Sajan’s tragic death as the municipal chairperson, Shyamala, was no friend of Sajan’s friend, Jayarajan who had promised to help him out. Shyamala, it is alleged, denied the ownership certificate to Sajan as he had sought the help of Jayarajan, the CM’s close aide against whom Shyamala’s husband, Govindan Master, had a grudge. “Shyamala had repeatedly told my husband that she would not grant him the certificate as long as she occupies the chair of the municipal chairperson,” Beena, Sajan’s wife claimed.

Far from taking action against Shyamala who is widely seen as the main culprit, Vijayan came down heavily on government servants. Four municipal officers were suspended. Vijayan also said the guilty would be punished, no matter who they were or what their connections were. “The public fear red tapism and it should be avoided. The death of Sajan was an unfortunate development. If the allegations raised in this connection are proved, strict action will be initiated against the guilty,” he told the Assembly. Sajan’s wife, Beena, has filed a complaint with the CM, the District Collector and the Kannur Superintendent of Police, demanding criminal cases be registered against Shyamala, Andhoor municipal secretary, MK Gireesh, and engineer Kalesh, in connection with the suicide of her husband. But beyond filing a case of unnatural death, nothing has been done.

“Sajan was depressed over the delay in getting the occupancy certificate. The municipality did not even issue a notice. Because of that we could not move court. Sajan felt all his savings were lost,” said K Sajeevan, project manager of Partha Builders. Sajan had reportedly applied for an occupancy certificate on April 14, 2019, and as per government rules and the single-window clearance to promote investment, the certificate should have been issued within 10 days. “We had not encroached on government land or indulged in any kind of violation. The municipal body and its officials cited absolutely silly reasons to deny us the occupancy certificate, without which we cannot apply for power supply to start commercial operations,” Sajeevan pointed out. He added: “The municipal officials said the size of the balcony should be only 25 percent of the total area of the auditorium, but we had constructed the balcony up to 26 percent of the main hall after the chief town planning officer allowed us to do so.”

Trouble started for Sajan almost from the day he applied for permission to build the convention centre in 2014. No sooner had construction begun that the municipality began creating trouble, citing violations in building rules. Though a joint inspection of officials from the chief town planning office and municipality found no major violations, the harassment never stopped. “The vice-chairman of the municipal council said there had been some variations in the building plan. But at no time did we tell the businessman to wind up the project,” said Shyamala who denied that she had anything to do with the denial of certificate for the convention centre.

Since it came to power in May 2016, the Vijayan government has had more than its fair share of brush with controversy. In the Andhoor municipality, where the denial of a permit led Sajan to end his life, the son of a state minister—close to the chief minister—is building a resort on a hillock in violation of all norms. Not too long ago, Thomas Chandy, the transport minister in the state cabinet, was forced to resign following charges of grave violation of the Paddy and Wetland Conservation Act. CPI(M) legislator PV Anwar, who lost the recent Lok Sabha election from the Ponnani constituency, continues to be in the eye of a storm over his water theme park on a hilltop in Kozhikode district. That the government came to his rescue even when a dam inside the theme park premises virtually collapsed during last year’s monsoon shows the extent to which it would go to protect lawbreakers and violators, if they were one’s own.

The government is trying to depict the Sajan suicide as an isolated one. This is far from the case. On February 23, 2018, Sugathan, a 64-year-old expatriate, who wanted to set up an automobile workshop at Kunnikkode in Kollam district, committed suicide as the LDF-ruled local panchayath council denied him a license. Sugathan’s son, Sujith, told India Legal that their life was in tatters as they could not return to Muscat in time following the death of their father. Worse, authorities in the gulf state ordered closure of a workshop that Sugathan ran over there as his visa sponsorship had ended. No compensation was paid either.

To add to the CPI(M)’s cup of miseries, last week brought more bad news when police from Mumbai arrived in Kannur in search of Binoy Kodiyeri, the son of CPI(M)’s all-powerful state secretary and former home minister, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. This followed a Dubai based bar dancer filing a complaint accusing Binoy of sexually exploiting her for nearly 10 years. She also said that Binoy was the father of her nine-year-old son. While the entire state is discussing the peccadilloes of the state secretary’s son and the many illegalities of the family members of the top leaders, the CPI(M)’s central leadership watches mutely as the party takes the road to self destruction in the only state in which it has any presence left.

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