Kerala witnessed a sad and heart-wrenching scene on July 26 when an octogenarian, Devassy protested in front of scam-hit Karuvannur Cooperative Bank in Thrissur district of the southern state with his wife Philomina’s coffin.
Devassy and his family were protesting in front of the bank as his wife had died at Thrissur government medical college following his inability to provide her better treatment in a good private hospital due to lack of funds. Devassy has a deposit of Rs 30 lakh in the bank but the bank did not pay him his money when he needed it most to provide better treatment to his wife who was a retired employee of Kerala government.
The death of Philomina and the family bringing her dead body in front of the Karuvannur Cooperative Bank headquarters has CPI-M – which controls the bank – running for cover. While the party maintains that it has taken strong action against all those involved in the scam including the party’s local level leaders, several skeletons are tumbling out of the cupboard.
Sunil Kumar’s father who was the Secretary of the bank and who is in jail told media persons that his son was innocent and had given money to people according to the wishes of former CPI-M district secretary C.K. Chandran, and former minister and former CPI-M district secretary A.C. Moideen.
Devassy while speaking to IANS said: “It was the life time savings of me and my wife. I had done several odd jobs in Mumbai and saved my money and now I am driving an autorickshaw at the age of eighty. The entire retirement benefits of my wife were deposited in this bank. I could not provide better treatment to my wife and I strongly believe that if I had money I would have given her better treatment at a private hospital in Thrissur.”
He said that the bank authorities treated him like a beggar and were asking umpteen questions as if he had gone to the bank for alms.
In another tragic incident, 70-year-old E.V. Raman of Thalikulam in Thrissur died after failing to get treatment following lack of funds. Raman has a deposit of Rs 10.04 lakh in the scam-hit Karuvannur Cooperative Bank.
He had to pay Rs 3 lakh for the nerve treatment in a private hospital and after he had given a request to the bank, they paid him only Rs 50,000 and he was shifted to a small hospital where facilities were not proper. He passed away on July 25 without getting adequate treatment even though he had sufficient money in the bank. Sadly, Raman had sold his house and deposited the money in the bank and was staying with his sister.
Another woman Sarojini (71), a widow and her divorcee daughter were living off the interest of a deposit of Rs 18 lakh in the bank. When the bank was hit by scam, they were paid a meagre amount of Rs 20,000 and the bank officials were not properly listening to their demand.
Speaking to IANS, Sarojini said: “The bank manager was asking me why I was admitting my granddaughter to an expensive school in Thrissur when I told him that I need money urgently to pay her school fee. This is ridiculous and criminal. We have put our money and the bank doesn’t have any answer to where the money has gone but they are insulting the depositors. More than that we have to stand in queue for long hours to even meet the bank manager.”
Meanwhile, the opposition Congress has stepped up the agitation against the scam, and leader of Opposition in the Kerala legislative assembly, V.D. Satheeshan called for a CBI inquiry.
Satheeshan while speaking to media persons said: “The cooperative bank is controlled by CPI-M and there are reports that those who are having good connections in the party were able to get back their money but a majority of the hapless depositors are left in the lurch.”
He said: “It has been a year since the fraud was detected and the bank was unable to pay depositors and the total loss is around Rs 300 crore. We are now hearing heart-wrenching stories of how people suffered as they were unable to get their money for medical or educational needs.”
He said that the scam involved not only the bank employees but was part of a deep-rooted conspiracy and hence, a CBI probe is necessary.
The state higher education minister R. Bindu who is the local MLA, made matters worse by stating that money was given to the family of deceased Philomina and that the public display of her dead body before the headquarters of the bank was part of a political conspiracy. The minister drew flak from across the state and she had to hurriedly withdraw her statement saying that her words were distorted by the media.
The opposition leader in his letter to the Chief Minister called upon the government to initiate a CBI probe and urged the government to pass an Ordinance to strengthen the Deposit Guarantee Scheme and pledged the full support of the opposition for saving the cooperative movement which is the backbone of the rural economy of Kerala.
In another development the state minister in-charge of cooperatives and senior leader of CPI-M, V.N. Vasavan said that around 124 cooperative banks in the state had some issues but the government will support these banks and help them come up.