The failing of Omanakuttan, the refugee in flood relief centre, in Ambedkar Community Hall in Kannikad, Alappuzha, is that in a world of hypocrites, he had a clean heart. When bosses duty-bound to run matters propertly, sat in their cosy offices and were doling out supplies of grocery from civil supplies premises as if it were their mercy, Omanakuttan delivered them directly to the camp. But because he collected Rs 70 towards the autofare for that service, some cronies of officials betrayed Omanakuttan. No sooner did a potential breaking news surfaced than news media started splashing the story.
Government representatives, ranging fom minister to village officer, lost no time in pouncingn on him, with the Tahsildar rushing to police; and promptly arrive did the police. But this police was not the same that had let an inebriated top bureaucrat, who hit a hapless man with a recklessly driven car causing his death, go free on bail after a ten-hour long watch and wait - long enough for his alcohol content in blood to disappear. This police now rushed to the spot at such pace as to allow no destruction of evidence, caught him red-handed and handed the 'contraband' to its rightful owners.
Just because it is a land of pound robbers, can a pilferer of penny be let off? So a section without bail was slapped on him. Police rose to the occasion. In spite of his dipping in water during flood for the last 35 years, and having had to spend those days in relief camps, his party which he had tried to nurture, suspended him. At a time when the party's reputation calls for DNA test, the party could not sit quiet against one who makes room for party-bashing. Therefore, as the Revenue Principal Secretary later regretfully noted, an ordinary man with just a torn pocket and pain to his credit, was stagmatised a thief for just collecting a pittance of an autofare.
But the exhilaration about the speed with which Kerala punishes the guilty, turned out to be terribly short-lived. Those who had spent nights with him started vouching for the fact that the life of Omanakuttan was a far cry from what was made of him. And that triggered the police, the government and the party rushing to exonerate him, way faster than they did for retribution. It has been proved certain that given the will, our administrative machinery can put one in the dock and then put one back on the victory stand, all within a couple of days.
The truths uttered by Omanakuttan, while giving the lie to the scandal, does also does tear apart the mask of our social set-up. And those who head the administration and the party bear testimony to that too. It is 35 years since Ambedkar village came into being. All these years, it has been an annually recurring pattern there that water logging forced people to temporary camps. And Omanakuttan also recalls that the setting up of make-shift camps and procuring materials and equipment for it have always been done with the initiative of the local residents.
In his apology through a Facebook post, Principal Secretary, Revenue department noted that for the past 35 years, the scheduled caste residents of that colony have been forced to enter the camp together with the rain. But then, is this just a piece of information to be shared when the government and the political party make a slip of hand? Is the government's responsibility only to accommodate residents of an area every year in relief camps as refugees for 35 years? What did alternating governments and the people's representative of the area do in this regard? It is a government stance that in a colony for scheduled castes, life can always be without a foundation? In the preliminary enquiry conducted by Revenue department in the matter of Omanakuttan, the disaster relief chief confesses that there is something called field-level reality.
But when would it be that the authorities will acknowledge the reality of the field where the poor are herded to, and back from relief camps on an annual basis, in Kannikatt, Cherthala and other parts of the state? Is there any plan to save them ashore from this perennial hardship? And do all the parties who treat these poor people as vote bank any intention to make the government take any decision in this regard? The grouse of the minister and leaders was only about one having brought disrepute to the party by making an unnecessary fund collection. But, the party does not lose its face or peace of mind when these needy have to sustain themselves in water ponds for decades!
The head of disaster relief clarifies that Revenue department is in charge of relief camps and each camp has a manager and an assisting committee and other mechanisms, and that there is no need to collect funds from the inmates. But for their part, the inmates state that the village head had come only when the controversy arose, and they themselves have been collectively bearing the expenses, not knowing that everything including the incidental expenses was at the cost of the government. But then what happens to funds and mechanisms arranged by the government for such purposes? Will the government make an enquiry into that with the same zeal as it did for the Rs 70 collection? Now that flood has happened again, a demand has been made that the running of the relief camps has to be subjected to audit.
Different suggestions have been made including entrusting panchayats with the task, rather than village offices which suffer from limitations even in manpower. Disorder and undesirable procedures have been alleged in setting up the camp and distribution of materials. Despite the availability of all resources including service-ready volunteers, the government machinery has yet to overcome its teething troubles. To improve that, the government has to achieve an adequate level of efficiecy. Omanakuttan was just reminding us of that. What is to be seen is whether the government will listen to that 'whistle blower'.