K Babu, the sitting MLA for the last 25 years in the Tripunithura constituency in Ernakulam district has the kind of sterling reputation with his constituents that even his rivals grudgingly admire. In the 2016 elections, Babu faces a contest from the DYFI leader M Swaraj for the LDF, with Thuravoor Viswambharan contesting for the BJP.
Tripunithura has been traditionally known for two industries, fishing and coir-making.
However, while Babu is known to have done much to encourage fishing, locals feel that the coir industry was left largely abandoned.
There were three main coir spinning units at Udayamperoor, South Paravur and Poonthotta in the constituency. Initially, these units had utilised coconut fiber that was collected locally. Later, as the units grew, the raw material was brought in, in large quantities, from Tamil Nadu.
Closed coir unit in Poonthotta
The units functioned as cooperative societies, with elected committees managing the units.
â€śEventually units in South Paravur and Poonthotta closed down. Corruption in the committee and inefficiency of the managing team was the reason. The workers stopped getting remuneration and the firms were on loss,â€ť says Somanathan, the president of the coir workersâ€™ welfare association of Tripunithura told The News Minute.
When the two units were closed down eight years ago, Udayamperoor continued to nominally function.
â€śThere were about 300 workers in the two units. The units were doing well. Now all of them have shifted to daily-wage work,â€ť Somanathan added.
For the coir workers their job was as much of a tradition and culture as a source of income.
â€śCoir production was closely attached to Tripunithuraâ€™s tradition. It was a family occupation for me, my grandfather worked in coir industry. But now I work as a security guard for different institutions. It is painful,â€ť says K Chandran who used to work at the South Paravur coir unit.
K Babu during his campaigning
Chandran says that he was happy with the income he got from the coir units when they were doing well.
Somanathan says that there were even attempts to sell off the land occupied by the coir units. â€śThe government tried to sell the land that these coir units occupied. It would have gained them crores of money. But we filed a petition in the High Court and the land sale was stayed.â€ť
PV Chandrabose, the Tripunithura area committee president for CPI, says that if this situation continues the area will no longer show any signs of the once-thriving coir industry.
â€śWhen two units were closed, many people became jobless. No efforts were taken by the local MLA to revamp the industry. Once Tripunithura was well known for its coir production,â€ť he said.
The voters of Tripunithura constituency now insist on restoration of coir production units as a condition for their votes.