Tirunelveli/Chennai: A man who set himself and his family members blaze over "harassment" by a moneylender died on Wednesday, even as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palanisamy directed authorities to act swiftly on usury complaints.
The National Human Rights Commission also issued a notice to the state taking cognisance of a complaint that Esakkimuthu and his wife Subbulakshmi took the extreme step after their repeated petitions to the collector seeking relief from unwarranted harassment by a moneylender fell on deaf ears.
The couple set themselves and their daughters, aged two and five, on fire at the collectorate complex in Tirunelveli on October 23.
Subbulakshmi and her two daughters died in a hospital that day itself, while Esakkimuthu (32), who was battling for life in "a very critical condition", succumbed to his burn injuries on Wednesday, the police said.
The rights body has directed the chief secretary, director general of police of Tamil Nadu, the district collector and police superintendent of Tirunelveli to submit a report within four weeks.
In a statement, the commission said that the incident, pictures of which went viral on social media, was not only "shocking" but betrayed a total lack of responsibility on the part of the police and officials concerned.
Recalling Esakkimuthu's repeated attempts seeking redressal of his grievance from the Tirunelveli Collector and for police intervention in the matter, the rights body alleged that the police, instead of taking action had been harassing the victim's family in connivance with the moneylender.
"Despite having paid Rs 2.34 lakh towards the principal and interests against the loan of Rs 1.45 lakh, the victim was facing harassment from the moneylender for payment of Rs 2 lakh more," the statement said.
The rights body claimed that in several parts of Tamil Nadu, usurious interest rates were being charged by moneylenders and when borrowers fail to pay it, they were physically and mentally harassed.
"Further, the authorities concerned are not taking appropriate action in the matter, rather people are being harassed by the police in connivance with moneylenders," the NHRC said.
Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister said an existing legislation prevented moneylenders from charging exorbitant interest rates and asked affected people to approach officials for redressal.
To prevent moneylenders from charging excessive interest rates, the J Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government had in 2003 enacted the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Charging Exorbitant Interest Act, CM Palaniswami noted.
It had various provisions aimed at protecting borrowers, and this included settling disputes through courts by paying the said amount there, the chief minister said in a statement.
"There are provisions (in the Act) to retrieve movable and immovable assets of borrowers illegally confiscated by moneylenders and hand it over to the (rightful) owners," he said, adding the legislation allowed taking stringent action against moneylenders charging exorbitant interest rates.
Underlining his government's commitment to protect people from such lenders, Palaniswami said, "I have directed District Collectors and police officials to take quick action on complaints received from people about charging of exorbitant interest rates, based on the 2003 legislation brought in by Amma (Jayalalithaa)."
Affected people can seek recourse without any fear and approach the collectors and police officials for relief, he said.
Following the immolation incident, moneylender Dhalavai Raj, his wife Muthu Lakshmi and his father Kalimuthu were arrested while Sub-Inspector Murugan and Head Constable Kandhasamy Kumar, who had allegedly threatened Esakkimuthu and Subbulakshmi, were suspended.