India is not a land for the dead, or the people they leave behind, it would seem.
Just a day after the apathy of the administration in Kalahandi in Odisha came to light, where a husband was forced to carry the body of his wife for about 10 km because the district government hospital did not care to provide him with a hearse van, now a case of alleged corruption over a death in Tamil Nadu has come to light.
The incident took place in M.Kannathur village in Ulunderpet in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu, 206 km from Tamil Nadu capital Chennai. The boy, 15-year-old Ajith Kumar, lost his father Kolanji in February 2015.
Under the Chief Minister Farmers Social Security Scheme, any farmer dying a natural death, gets an amount of Rs 12500 from the government. After a delay of one-and-a-half years, the cheque in Kolanji's case was finally processed this month in the name of Vijaya, his widow, who has shifted from Ulunderpet to Mumbai to work there.
When Ajith went to ask for the cheque, the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) Subramanian allegedly asked for a bribe of Rs 3000 to get the cheque processed. Ajith reportedly pleaded with him that he and his mother do not have the means to pay the bribe amount.
When the VAO did not relent, Ajith apparently with the help of some friends, got a banner printed and started asking people in the area for donations. He asked for money in public buses, near tea stalls, and in market places.
The banner he got printed in Tamil, named and shamed the VAO. It said : "Give me alms to bribe the VAO. I do not have the capacity to repay the debt that I incurred for my father's last rites. To get the Rs 12500, I am being asked to pay a bribe of Rs 3000 by the VAO of M.Kannathur."
When the Tamil Nadu government came to know of it, it ordered a probe by Senthamarai, the Revenue Divisional Officer of Thirukovilur. Her report submitted on Saturday, however, gave the VAO a clean chit saying Subramaniam never asked for a bribe.
"The cheque was issued in the name of Vijaya and the VAO made it clear that it cannot be handed it over to a minor. Since Ajith came many times to ask for the cheque, he seems to have been misled by some people that a bribe was expected,'' said Senthamarai, the RDO.
Subramaniam also pleads innocence, saying he was helpless in the matter. "I did not ask for any bribe. Since I could not help him, he spread this canard about me,'' he said.
Social activists however, say it is only to be expected that the government will give itself a clean chit.
"Finding an honest officer in Tamil Nadu is like finding God,'' says social activist Chandra Mohan. "Why would the boy go through all this trouble if he was not pushed to the wall? At the village level, the VAOs, the panchayat members, the block development officers, all connive to take a cut in every beneficiary's amount. They swindle together.''
Even though the VAO has been given a clean chit, the act of the 15-year-old going public with what happened inside a government office, is seen as a positive indication that petty corruption won't be tolerated. Ajith's act is the real life version of the virtual world social media that people in cities use to air their woes.
The RDO has now ordered that the money be transferred through ECS to Vijaya's bank account. The government suspects village-level politics at play but has relieved the VAO from his post, till the tension in the village subsides.
Incidentally, DMDK chief and the chief ministerial candidate of the Third Front in the Tamil Nadu elections, Vijaykant had contested the polls from Ulunderpet. One of Vijaykant's most famous movies is `Ramana' (the original of Akshay Kumar's `Gabbar is back'), which centers around the theme of corruption in public places. In the film, Vijaykant's character takes law into his own hands and kills corrupt officials.
But though Vijaykant harped on corruption in his election speeches, he suffered a humiliating defeat, losing his deposit in the 2016 outing. The actor-turned-politician could claim credit that his reel role became a role model for the youngster in real life.
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