Mr. E.K. Nayanar
Chief Minister of Kerala
- on Mission to Germany -
My dear Mr. Chief Minister,
On the very outset I beg your pardon for writing this letter in a language other than my mother tongue. It is meant to facilitate easy reading!
It is with great joy and pride that we welcome the Chief Minister and Education Minister of Kerala, and their delegation, to the land of Beethoven, Goethe and many other internationally well-known laureates in literature and cultural fields. I need hardly dwell upon the political history of Germany, as it is still vivid in the memory of the world! Please be assured that we will do whatever we can to make your trip a success! On a personal note, I served in the Indian Army as an officer before coming to Germany in 1976. I then joined the IUCN -The World Conservation Union in 1978. Founded in 1948, the World Conservation Union brings together States, government agencies and a diverse range of non-governmental organisations in a unique world partnership: over 800 members in all spread across some 125 countries. India is a State Member.
Before I start my letter, let me in all my sincerity make it clear that this letter is not meant to criticise the present government, which you head, for the fact that the system you have inherited is simply a continuation of what was there before. My intention is only to stimulate an examination of all of our consciences! I do not know whether I shall succeed in my attempt; but I shall have the satisfaction that I tried to communicate the malady prevailing in our society to a man for whom I have much admiration.
Our short meeting at the dinner held yesterday in the Steyler Mission will stay in my mind forever! Unfortunately, I am not here today to participate in the various workshops and seminars, where matters of common interest and problems faced by us in Kerala will be discussed. I must travel to Geneva (Switzerland) on an official mission. Hence this way of bringing my concern to your attention for the common good of our people. I shall be extremely grateful if you would kindly have a glance over it and react in the meeting. I may mention that it is impossible for me to bring out all problems which I would want to raise, but I think that I may be able to reflect the pulse of the common people, which otherwise falls on deaf ears.
Let me tell you that I have no politics, though, in my ignorance, during my school days in the late 50's, I also went into the street in the so-called liberation struggle against the then government. I am also proud to tell you that, 36 years later, I accompanied Shri. P.K. Kumaran of Pandalam, in his campaign to attract votes for him during the recent general election (not because I am a Communist) with firm belief that he is the right person and should win! My only wish is that my state should prosper!
Of late, I have read in newspapers that you have had the good luck to travel abroad a lot and to see in person the gigantic developments made by those countries. This must have also provoked you to think about the backwardness of our State, which is blessed with good climate, educated populace, politically conscious population, et al. With all this, we should be a State, literally speaking, with milk and honey flowing out of it!
But what have we made out of it? Take the corruption prevalent in politics and governmental spheres, the pathetic state of our roads and bridges, and the abhorrent nature of the dirty surroundings everywhere.
We cry about having no money; can't we think of entrusting construction of bridges and roads to private parties as in the United States and allow them to charge tolls. In any case, the government can do it -- I do not know for how long it has been charging such tolls at the Pandalam Bridge (perhaps four or five years). The helplessness of the government can be measured by the delay in the construction of the Enathu Bridge (one calls it Bridge, but I call it Culvert). If a government can't construct such a small bridge in such a long span of time in the most important Main Central Road, the heart line of Kerala - I think it is more than two years it is under construction - I do not know what can it perform?
Thiruvananthapuram is a beautiful city with its broad alleys, trees, beaches and all that; but are we really trying to keep it clean and in a life friendly atmosphere? I suspect that you are not unaware of the toilet facilities in Trivandrum and Ernakulam bus terminals (just to take two cardinal examples). Can anyone stand there inside for a few seconds even in an emergency?
Think about the bus service -- I hope you will take a little time to travel incognito in a public Transport bus in Germany to see the cleanliness, punctuality and politeness of the drivers (there are no bus conductors in Germany). They all help you, and even when you tell them that you are sorry to have bothered them with questions, their answer with smile on their faces would always be "we are there to help you” and "wish you a good day."
The behaviour of our state employees is not only unhelpful, but also harmful! To give a concrete example -- I have come across a case where a man wanted to acquire some stamp papers worth a certain amount in order to conclude a deed of sale. The minor sub-registry in Nooranadu is not supposed to keep more than a limited quantity of stamp papers. So this person was obliged to go to the sub-treasury in Pandalam. An application was made, which was approved by the head clerk and the Registrar for the sale of the stamp papers. Once this hurdle was over, the sale clerk did not want to issue the papers for reasons known only to him. There were peons from various schools waiting to clear their challans for payment. And there was no money in the treasury! The irony is that there was a man standing with lots of money, which would have been enough to clear at least one person in the queue. But, the sale clerk sat stuck to his throne! To make a long story short, once a certain amount was put in his drawer, the stamp papers were issued! If this were not done, the party would not have got his papers on time, delaying the registration of the deed in Nooranadu, which is 10Kms on the other direction from Pandalam. The first question which comes to my mind is why a sub registry should not be authorised to keep enough stamp papers in safe custody and why so many channels should be cleared for the simple sale of such a thing as stamp papers?
The same story is repeated in the electricity department -- connections are not given unless the department is bribed; meters are not installed because there is not enough in stock (though it is paid for by the users).
I have already mentioned about the sorry state of our Public Bus Service system. The primitive standard of our buses are alarming and distressing! They come out of the depots in a shabby state; punctuality is not heard of; buses do not stop at the points marked STOPS; still one can see Public Transport Buses running with no or scarce passengers, but the drivers do not stop for them. Even if they do stop, they do it in places far away, resulting the passengers to run to catch the buses in dangerous surroundings, and sometimes the irresponsible conductor shows his arrogance by giving signal to start the bus at a most inappropriate moment!
I do not have to talk about the construction works taking place at road junctions and public places, hindering the flow of traffic. It is a common sight even today in a place where so many people work abroad that the “sacred cows” and other animals have priority over the flow of traffic and have become a public nuisance.
On my visit to Pathanamthitta, I saw to my anguish how the office of the Superintendent of Police is surrounded by the dirt omitting fish market and how the road is encroached by the hikers, making public life excruciating! When one thinks it happens in front of the nose of the custodians of law!
I do not dare to touch upon the precarious law and order situation, which I observed during my recent visit to the State. Countless political murders among the students; the inactivity and helplessness of police in the face of political threat from the far extreme right! A responsible Marxist friend of mine confided to me that the police are afraid of dealing with the BJP! A true shame indeed!
I am told that the purpose of your visit is to canvass investment of NRIs in the State, and I wish you good luck in this noble venture. But, I have my doubts whether this is going to succeed! What is the guarantee that the investment will properly be rewarded? Have we got enough electricity to run factories, the necessary infra-structure -- good roads, telecommunication facilities, willing officialdom to grant permits (without a kickback) and, last but not least, the necessary cooperation from the officialdom once the investor is locked in?
A State, which claims to be a paradise for tourists, is a disaster for those who visit our state with full of hope and optimism. A French visitor, who read much about the beauty of our state and rivers, was distressed beyond explanation when he visited Periyar to have a bath only to see the human excrements on the sands of the river. Another German visitor, while hearing that I come from Kerala, asked me about the “Kerala Grass” offered in front of the guardians of law - the police - at the Kovalam beach. These are not things, which give credit to a State with people with political consciousness and claim 100% literacy! We teach in schools that cleanliness is next to godliness.
Western societies have until now no major political problems to combat in elections, except on ecology and pollution issues. They have rules governing everything.
Thus, it is punishable to wash vehicles in streams and on streets. They must do it in places meant for it. There are approved norms how motor oils in the vehicles should be changed. Garages take care of it. Is there a single Petrol Tank Station or Workshop in Kerala, which is free from ecological catastrophes caused because there is no such thing as environmental protection and cleanliness? Sir, in all honesty I tell you one feels like crying in front of such human made calamities. We are custodians of the nature and should care for the future generations.
Concern about the environment as our natural capital should be at the foundation of our activities and development. To quote the UN Secretary General, "our activities should be devised to regulate relations between humankind and nature". Nature as a whole warrants respect; every form of life is unique and is to be safeguarded independent of its value to humanity. The global environment is a common concern of humanity. Peace, development, environmental protection and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent. Protection of the environment is best achieved by preventing environmental harm rather than by attending to remedy or compensate for such harm. The exercise of the right to development entails the obligation to meet the developmental and environmental need of humanity in a sustainable and equitable manner.
I do not want to prolong this already long narrative. Let me tell you, Sir, in all honesty that I am not an admirer of everything, which is Western. On the contrary, I admire everything that is Indian and do not say anything negative against my country while discussing about it with my foreign friends. I tell them that our Civilisation stood the tempest of times for so many millenniums and it will weather it for many more millenniums. But, we have to be honest to ourselves and therefore I dare to discuss these with you.
Is there a way out? The government headed by you has a mandate; I think you can make a beginning. One person has proved that things can be moved if proper leadership is provided -- and that person comes from our own State, Shri. T.N. Seshan! I, along with millions of my other compatriots, wish you good luck and all successes in your attempt.
Hoping to hear your reaction, I remain, dear Mr. chief Minister,
c.c. Shri. P.I. Joseph
Minister for Education & public works
Members of the Delegation