THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Sarah Varkey has just one probable explanation for the relief that she has finally received. "The good deeds that my husband had done in the past, like teaching destitute kids or helping workers in distress, might have returned to help me," Ms Varkey said. She is one of the many who could clear their debts, which had accumulated over decades, during the one-time-settlement process initiated by Kerala Financial Corporation here last week. The KFC estimated that she had an accumulated debt of Rs 3.20 crore.
However, during the OTS negotiations, the KFC agreed to wiple her slate clean for Rs 1 lakh. The loan was not taken by her family, but by the former owners of a tea estate in Ponmudi. The initial loan of Rs 5 lakh, which had later swelled and eventually shattered Ms Varkey's family, was taken half a century ago, in 1966, for constructing a factory within 600-odd acres of tea estate in Ponmudi. The estate and tea factory were pledged as collateral for the loan.
The factory, which was functioning well, was bought by Ms Varkey's husband George Varkey in 1981 for Rs 14 lakh. "We were aware of the loan. We were also told that Rs 90,000 had been paid by then," Ms Varkey said. The estate was a colonial marvel, a spacious Victorian bungalow in the middle of rolling acres of pruned tea shrubs lined up in geometric precision. There was also the factory, a school and a creche too. The production was also at its peak, nine tonnes of tea daily. But in 1991, the KFC officials came in without warning and confiscated the property.
George Varkey fought a protracted legal battle. In 1998 the High Court ordered that the estate be restored. By then, the estate had been taken over by the elements, both natural and anti-social. "The tea shrubs had grown into trees, the bungalow looked hollow with its antique furniture missing. The brass and silver utensils there had also vanished," Ms Varkey said. The factory was of no use as the machines had rusted.
As if this was not enough, the entire property was taken over in 2005 by the Forest Department under the Ecologically Fragile Lands Act. The family was absolutely cut off from the property. But the KFC arrears kept mounting. "We had by then paid Rs 13.9 lakh," Ms Varkey said. George Varkey died a broken man in January this year. "We are grateful that Thomas Isaac could finally give us justice. But I keep thinking that if this relief had come a little earlier my husband perhaps could have been saved," she said.