Sri Lankan Tamils have become a pawn in the hands of politicians for competitive politics. CM Jayalalitha used her Independence Day address to make an appeal on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils. “We are celebrating the independence of the country and at least now India should prevail upon the Sri Lankan government to ensure that our Tamil brethren living in camps are rehabilitated in their own places and secure rights on a par with the Sinhalese,” she said. The operative phrase (“at least now”) she used was curious. Was she adding her voice to former CM Karunanidhi's, who organised the TESO conference (that her government put spokes in the wheel of, but was compelled to allow by the Madras High Court), where one of the resolutions passed was to rehabilitate displaced Sri Lankan Tamils? Or was she insecure that after the last few years, he has made a beginning to recover the image of protector of Tamils that he once enjoyed but lost as people, the Tamil diaspora and Tamil groups began to see him as a “betrayer” and that his motives were cynical and aimed at electoral benefits? The twitter account that this octogenarian began two days after conducting the conference proved that he has a long way to go to win over critics. His first two tweets were about the TESO conference and the responses were not all rah rah. Though actress Khushboo, also a prominent face of the DMK, gushed in her tweet: “Welcome Thalaivare.”
Degrees of Separation
Karunanidhi at least will now know firsthand what people think of him. CM Jayalalitha still has multiple degrees of separation from the people. But interestingly, Karunanidhi too seems to have taken this step two days after Jayalalitha embraced high tech to plug into people’s grievances faster. She inaugurated a new website (http://tn.com.gov.in) to which complaints can be sent directly. At the moment, the CM’s cell gets 3,500 complaints every day through snail mail, courier and other modes. The new facility will aid those outside Chennai not only to send their complaints but also get an instant acknowledgement. Since she assumed power last May, the cell has received about five lakh complaints from across the state. The inauguration of the cell showed that apart from livelihood issues, many women approach the CM to solve their marital problems, complain of domestic violence and about dowry demands. One of the problems these women face is that cops are reluctant to get involved. “The police in some stations are reluctant to register marital discord cases since they have to solve the issue once a FIR (first information report) is lodged. These women know once they complain to the CM cell, they will get justice.” says one of the 50 officials in the CM’s cell.
Scams wherever you looked. That would sum up TN in the last few weeks. The granite scam worth Rs 16,000 crore; the emu farm scam (pegged at Rs 100 crore) where the promoter of Susi Emu Farms (MS Gruru) is absconding leaving investors wringing their hands and emus starving; and the leak of a question paper in the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission. The reason for this is just under our noses — it starts out with exams and that includes question paper leaks in an era where education is a business and not an area where you begin learning life’s lessons. There’s education “baron” Jeppiar, who was arrested belatedly — after there was a buzz that the state government was not moving in the matter because of Jeppiar’s links to AIADMK founder MGR — after 10 workers died in a stadium wall collapse at Jeppiaar Institute of Technology in Sunguvarachathram, outside Chennai. Two days after he was arrested on August 9, his application for bail was denied by the sessions judge at Kanchepuram. Now he has approached the Madras High Court saying he was first arrested from a hospital and was allowed to stay there, but taken to the Vellore central prison against medical advice. He claimed he had diabetes and high blood pressure and not getting proper treatment in prison. “I am a reputed educationist who would not tamper with evidence,” his plea said. The court has not yet got back. Incidentally, reports say that apart from inferior material used in building the stadium, construction also began without soil testing or permission from the local panchayat.
Same old, Same old
A change of government only changes people at the top not the misdoings that are part of the system. And nothing proves it like the question paper leak in the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) exams that has led to their cancellation. As many as 6.4 lakh candidates appeared for the exams held last Sunday in 114 centres across all the 32 districts to fill 3,631 vacancies. However, the question paper leaked in Erode and Dharmapuri districts. And now there will be a re-exam, says TNPSC chairman Nataraj, a police officer who had approached the Central Administrative Tribunal when he was bypassed and Latika Saran was made the DGP of the state when the DMK was in power.
Less than a year ago (in October, 2011), TNPSC was rocked by a scam when its then chairman, R. Sellamuthu, and 13 other members of the commission were raided and apart from disproportionate assets, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption found lists of candidates with markings that made it evident that recruitments were fixed in exchange for money. After the raids, the vigilance department wanted to investigate all TNPSC selections between 2006 and 2011, but had to call it off after the Supreme Court stayed all proceedings.
When Nataraj took over, he was asked about the progress of the case and his reply was: “We did not get any communication from the DVAC about their investigation. We had to release the results when the court ordered us to do so.” And that means the government recruited as per the suspect list. Now Nataraj has cancelled the exam after the question paper leak and has ordered a re-exam, but where is the guarantee that there will not be a cloud over this exam too?
Birds of a feather
In April, a friend wanted to taste emu meat and we went to Maya and Maya, a unit of VC Farms India Limited, in Chennai. The menu was not an eye opener, it seemed to be same old biryani, 65, fry, etc except that instead of chicken, emu meat was substituted. But the price was rocking – Rs 850 for a kilo of emu fry. My friend bought a little nevertheless but it was not anything he will buy again.
That was the problem with emu meat: the price was made so prohibitive and no imagination was used to come up with a menu that the outlet remained a takeaway that did not grow into a speciality restaurant because patrons rarely came twice. It was bound to fail. And fail it did. But while patrons got ripped off once, those who invested in emu farms in Erode, Namakkal, Coimbatore, Perundarai ended up as bigger losers because they put down Rs 1.5 lakh to get about six chicks to start a farm. It worked like this: The promoter gave the investor Rs 1000 per chick per month for 18 months (it is an adult by then and lays eggs) after which he would take back the birds and give another six chicks. Around 250 companies got involved in the business and between them had about 1500 to 2000 emus.
But there were no returns for the investors in the last six months. And now the bubble has burst with one of the biggest promoters, M.S. Guru of Susi Emu Farms being at large since August 6. People have lost their life savings and birds their source of food. You can't blame the authorities because they had, as recently as May, warned people not to flock towards investing in emu farms thanks to slick spiel from brand ambassadors like actors Sarath Kumar and Satyaraj. And then there are starving emus which have been abandoned because owners are more worried about the money they have lost. Besides, with promoters closing shop, the source of feed for the birds has been cut off. Also, those who were contracted to supply the feed are reluctant because they feel it will be like throwing good money after bad. Police has received 500 complaints from Erode, Salem, Coimbatore, Cuddalore and Tiruchi districts (166 alone from Susi Emu Farms). The investigation continues but most investors will have to kiss their money goodbye.