Five days ago, Minu Pauline, who runs a restaurant in Kochi, put up a video on Facebook, by now shared a lot and talked about much.
In the 30-minute video, Minu talks of an incident at the collection drive for floods in Kerala, by Anbodu Kochi led by IAS officers Rajamanickam, Mohammed Hanish and Mohammad Safirulla, who is also the Ernakulam District Collector. According to Minu, when she went to contribute some relief material at the Regional Sports Centre, where the drive was happening, she and quite a few others were told that they were closing it. Minu says that actor Poornima Indrajith who was looking after the collection, told the people outside with folded palms, that they had too much material to sort already, and cannot take more.
Minu and a few others had apparently questioned this, and offered to volunteer if the others were too tired. She repeatedly alleges in the video how bad it would be to reject all this material when there would be so many people struggling without basic necessities at the rescue camps.
She and some others then went on to work on their own collection drive at the nearby GCDA complex and send materials to camps through different vehicles.
All this while – for about five days during the floods – Minu had kept her restaurant Pappadavada closed. On opening it later– on the 20th – she found a big team of food and safety inspection officials coming to Pappadavada. They cited reasons such as the sludge around the restaurant and an unused fridge to ask her to close shop. She was willing to, she says, but then they changed tack and asked her to pay a fine of Rs. 1 lakh.
“I didn’t have that kind of money. So we negotiated and made it a fine of Rs. 20000,” Minu says when we call her. “I can’t believe they would come at a time like this. So many government officials came –there were about eight of them – when the state is going through such a disaster. After that I kept the restaurant closed for two more days. I got scared. But yesterday I have opened it again. Muralee Thummarakudy (disaster response expert) held a Chai Pe Charcha there, attended by the likes of lawyer activist Harish Vasudevan.”
The video that Minu Pauline put out on Facebook
Minu appears to think the inspection was done as a sort of revenge by IAS officers and keeps asking Rajamanickam, who is also the Commissioner of Food Safety, how he could stoop so low.
Rajamanickam was not available for comments. But according to a source from the district administration, the inspection has been carried out in 15 to 20 restaurants in Kochi, on the basis of an allegation that some materials from the collection drive were taken to restaurants. Minu's just happened to be one among those restaurants, there was no question of revenge, says the officer.
Though Anbodu Kochi team did not want to come on record, they told TNM that the indoor stadium was filled with relief materials and the Navy has given them specific instructions on how to pack things in a way that the package would not be damaged if it was thrown on earth or water.
"The sorting was not easy. There were tonnes of stuff on the first few days and we had to sort items and pack into bags that Navy could drop for people stranded. Hundreds of relief centres had specific requirements and this had to be sorted too. Also, there was not an inch of space for more volunteers. This is why Poornima stood outside politely telling people that we could not accomodate more stuff," a team member said.