news Friday, July 31, 2015 - 05:30
  Residents of Kerala’s Kasargod district feel that in God’s Own Country, the development train begins in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, slows down as it goes north, and stops before it reaches their district. Kerala’s northern most district is a paradox – it the second district in the country to achieve total primary education, and large number of people from the district work in West Asian countries and send money home. But all this does not mean that there is prosperity in the district. In fact, the opposite it is true. The district has poor infrastructure in terms of health, power, water and transport. A member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who spoke to this reporter said: “Why development slow down as it moves north (from Thiruvananthapuram in the south) and then stop in Kannur?” Every summer, people are forced to drink hard water which contains high concentration of dissolved salts. “Five years ago, a project to build a barrage to block sea water from entering the river was started. But, construction has now been stalled,” says Mujeeb Ahmed, a social activist and managing director of local daily ‘Uttaradesham’. Valiyaparambu backwaters There are very few hospitals in the district. Even those that exist do not have adequate infrastructure, forcing people to depend on Mangaluru, a city across the border in Karnataka, says Unnikrishnan Pushpagiri, a senior journalist and an activist from Kasaragod. In case of accidents, victims are referred either to hospitals and medical colleges in Mangaluru, or to Pariyaram Medical College in Kannur, both of which are in neighbouring districts. “A person who meets with an accident or is seriously injured is forced to travel more than 55 kilometers to get treatment,” says Unnikrishnan.  Mujeeb feels that the district is neglected by both the state and central governments. “Kasaragod is the only district in Kerala where Rajadhani train doesn’t have a stop. The condition of the railway station is also pathetic,” he says. According to Mujeeb, over two lakh people from the district work overseas but there is no passport office in the district to cater to them. “The nearest Passport Seva Kendra is in Payyanur (Kannur district) which is 98 kilometers away. Besides the NRI community, there are many who travel to Mecca for Hajj and Ummrah,” Mujeeb says. A petition had been started to demand a passport office in the district. “Following a petition from MP P Karunakaran, External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj on September 2014 had instructed Passport organization to conduct Passport Seva Camps at Kasaragod but no initiatives have been taken up till today,” the petition says.  Unnikrishnan also points that the district faces an electricity crisis. “At least twice or thrice in a week we have four-five hours power cuts. Voltage is always very low in all areas,” he said. Broken promises The state government had in 2012 constituted the Prabhakaran Commission to draw up a development package. Based on the recommendations of the commission, the state Planning Commission had approved a package of Rs 11,123 crore for various development works in March 2013, but nothing has happened since. The same year, there was something to cheer about when Chief Minister Oommen Chandy laid the foundation stone for a medical college in Badiadukka village. But construction is yet to begin, despite repeated requests to the government by locals and activists. Another medical college for the district under Kerala Central University (located in Kasaragod) was to be sanctioned by the government, but Unnikrishnan says that the college is likely to be shifted to Pathanamthitta in southern Kerala. “Why so much neglect of Kasaragod? Development concentrates only in south of Kerala,” Unnikrishnan says. Before that, in 2010, the government had identified 2,000 acres of land for a gas-based power plant in Cheemeni which was aimed at boosting industrial development in the district. But nothing has come of it. Reasons for lack of development Former CPI (M) MLA from Kasaragod KP Satheesh Chandran said that the distance from the capital and ruling center had much to do with the neglect of the district – Kasargod is 565 km north of Thiruvanthapuram. “In comparison with southern and central Kerala, the northern region is lacking in basic amenities and infrastructure, especially Kasaragod district. It is mainly because of its remoteness from the ruling center,” he says. However, Mujeeb has another perspective on this. Kasargod district is somewhat an anomaly for two reasons. Administratively, it was part of South Canara district of the Madras Presidency under the British, but it continued to be included in Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka after Independence. It was only in 1956 when the states were linguistically reorganized that Kasargod was merged with Kerala. Culturally, Mujeeb feels that parts of Kerala which were under the Madras Presidency spoke different languages and dialects, and their culture too, is not in sync with the rest of Kerala, contributing to the mental distance that polticial leaders have towards the region. Kasargod was part of what is called Tulunadu, once an actual kingdom but today exists only in the region’s cultural imagination.  Present day Udupi and Dakshina Kannada (in coastal Karnataka) and Kasargod districts formed Tulunadu and the region collectively shares a lot of history and contemporary circumstances too, such as the migration to West Asian countries. Lastly, Mujeeb feels that had there been a powerful or influential politician from the district, things could have been different.