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Kangaroo courts stage Kerala comeback

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 29: Street trials and gheraos of “corrupt officials” are staging a comeback in Kerala in a throwback to the days of kangaroo courts organised by a Maoist organisation against doctors.

But this time, pro-Naxalite outfits have been silent while youth activists of parties like the Janata Dal and the CPI are taking to the streets in full glare of the electronic media.

On Saturday, All-India Youth Federation activists dragged an orthopaedic surgeon out of the sub-district hospital at Thodupuzha and paraded him with the placard “I am corrupt and my fee is Rs 2,500”.

The activists alleged that the doctor has been demanding hefty fees from poor patients for even routine surgical procedures.

The surgeon, C.C. James, denied this, saying there had been no complaints against him. The guerrilla-type operation was intended for cheap publicity rather than a genuine exposure of corruption, he said.

The Indian Medical Association is yet to react to the public trial.

In two other incidents, reminiscent of the campaign carried out by the Naxalite outfit Janakeeya Vedi against doctors, the Yuva Janata Dal and youth federation activists gheraoed the director of health services and a senior state pollution control board official, accusing them of taking bribes.

A handful of Dal workers barged into the pollution board office in the city and strung a garland of used Coke bottles around Dr K.V. Indulal, the member-secretary, doused him with the soft drink and stuck a bottle into his mouth. They accused him of taking a bribe of Rs 50 lakh from the Coke factory at Plaachimada in the northern district of Palakkad and suppressing his inquiry report on waste discharge from the plant.

In early August this year, the pollution control board had said that samples of the sludge it had collected contained 201.8 mg of carcinogenic cadmium per kg of the dry waste. The permissible level is 50 mg/kg.

After that, Indulal was asked by the health minister to carry out a comprehensive study on how cadmium, which can cause kidney failure, and other toxic metals came to contaminate the sludge. But the report that Indulal submitted to the government has not seen the light of day.

The BBC, too, had warned of eco-poisoning when it claimed that the sludge was being given to farmers as fertiliser.

The gherao came two days after Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan, a member of the CPM politburo, held a news conference and accused the pollution board officials of fudging reports concerning people’s health.

The agitators first entered the office of the board chairman, Paul Thachil, asking for the report. Thachil reportedly pointed his finger at the member-secretary. Soon after, the chairman left for the secretariat, ostensibly to inform health officials of the plight of the member-secretary.

“If I had not duly informed the health additional secretary, who in turn spoke to the IG, south zone, the police action wouldn’t have been so prompt,” Thachil told The Telegraph. But he refused to discuss the merits of the charges levelled against Indulal.

Indulal could not be contacted despite several attempts. But he was heard telling his captors on TV that “I’ve done no harm and if the people do not want me to continue, I will vacate the chair immediately”.

In the second incident, youth federation cadre laid siege to the office of health director Dr V.K. Rajan and held him captive for nearly half an hour till the police arrived. The gherao came in the midst of a meeting being chaired by the director.

Rajan has been in the news since the finance department’s inspection wing detected serious fraud in the purchase of vials of “abhayrab” anti-rabies vaccine from a private party, ignoring supply orders placed with a government firm.

More such gheraos and public trials are expected in the days ahead with the accountant-general also endorsing the findings of the finance wing.

Health minister P. Sankaran was away in Pathanamthitta district in central Kerala addressing a meeting when his officials were being held to ransom.

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