The suicide of an NRI businessman who failed to get clearance by the local civic body to launch a business venture reflects the political one-upmanship and the lack of transparency in building rules prevailing at the local bodies. This is not the first such incident; neither the last, sadly.
KOCHI: The death by suicide of an NRI businessman two days ago is yet another manifestation of governance deficit stalking the corridors of power in Kerala.
The incident, a shattering blow to the desperate efforts by the government to project the state as an investment-friendly destination, raises several questions on the governance matrix prevailing at the level of local self-government institutions (LSGI) as well as in the secretariat, the seat of the political executive.
The suicide by Sajan Parayil in exasperation after his efforts failed to get regulatory approval from the officialdom of Anthoor municipality for an auditorium constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 15 crore will fade away from public memory soon as the media scavenges for more grotesque events.
The tragic incident shows the political one-upmanship and the lack of transparency in building rules prevailing at the local bodies. The failure of the governing class to devise a transparent system to pre-empt violations of building rules provides a golden opportunity for the officialdom to cut corners with the hapless citizens.
The desperate action by Mr Parayil cannot be dismissed as an isolated event.
Last year Sugathan, 65, a Gulf-returnee, committed suicide after bullying by a local leader of the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI) by hoisting a red flag and shutting his workshop.
He had worked for 35 years in Oman before returning for good a year ago to start the automobile workshop.
The state also witnessed a spate of incidents in the past few years where people committed suicide in village offices or set fire to such offices in desperation.
K.P. Joy, a 57-year old farmer, hanged himself inside Chemanodu village office in Kozhikode district in 2017 after officials dilly-dallied in accepting land tax from him and regularise ownership in his name. In another incident a person set fire to the Vellarada village office in Thiruvananthapuram after the failure of the officials to address his requirements.
The failure of the LSGIs designed to deliver statutory services such as building permits, tax receipts and a slew of other services and provide a culture of democratic accountability to the people at the grassroots level is having serious social, economic and political consequences.
The fate of nearly 400 apartment owners facing the threat of demolition of their apartments at Maradu municipality on the outskirts of Kochi for violation of Coastal Regulation Act following the Supreme Court order provides yet another instance of the failure of the LSGI to devise a system to identify the violations, if any, from the beginning and take remedial actions. The sequence that led to the Supreme Court order is a sad commentary on the decision-making process and policy framing by the LSGI at Maradu, Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority and other agencies concerned.
The political class and the officialdom thrive with the anti-people culture mainly on account of the lack of transparency in terms of rules and regulations governing the statutory requirements connected with the basic services to be provided by the LSG institutions.
The political class in the state, if they have an iota of respect for the people, can launch a programme to make a transparent building code and zones at the levels of the panchayat, the municipality and the corporation. The use of information technology can be tapped in a creative manner in preparing such a document with geographical specifics.
The dissemination of such information will help in eliminating the culture of arbitrary decisions by officials at the LSG institutions and the political class governing them. The availability of such a document at the hands of a citizen will enable them to approach the higher echelons of the governance structure to seek relief in case of any hurdles at the local level.
In a state like Kerala with a very fragile ecological system, such a document is a dire necessity. Its availability on the public domain will be the first step in empowering people at the grassroots. Imagine availability of such a document on the public domain on ecologically sensitive areas like Munnar or Wayanad. It would certainly act as a potential deterrent for encroachers.
The question is whether the governing elite in the state will show a political will for such resolute measures that would go a long way in ushering in a semblance of modern and civilised governance practices....