Thiruvananthapuram: A woman and her daughter set themselves on fire near Neyyattinkara here on Tuesday when a nationalised bank allegedly threatened to go ahead with attachment proceedings for loan default. Though the two were rushed to the hospital, the daughter, Vaishnavi (19), died on the way. The mother, Lekha (40), who suffered 90 per cent burns, died at the Medical College hospital a few hours later.
Vaishnavi is a BBA student. Both had doused themselves with kerosene and set themselves on fire. They were alone in the house. Neighbours and relatives said that the mother and daughter took the extreme step after bank officials started pestering them with calls. Lekha's husband Chandran told Manorama News that they had taken a housing loan of Rs 5 lakh from the Neyyattinkara branch of the Canara Bank. "We have already repaid Rs 8 lakh. But we need to pay another Rs 6.80 lakh," Chandran said. Chandran said that his wife had given a written assurance to the advocate commission, which has reached the house last week, that we would repay the remaining amount on May 14.
Chandran said he was expecting a seller to purchase the property (the land and the house) for Rs 24 lakh. "Last week we gave the written assurance in the hope that this man would buy the land. The seller had even told the bank that he would submit the money directly to the bank," Chandran said. The people in the area said that the family was willing to sell the property, which was worth at least Rs 50 lakh, for even as low as Rs 20 lakh to get over the crisis. The family had to repay Rs 6.80 lakh. "This man who said he will pay the money did not turn up. By afternoon, the bank people started calling up on the mother's phone and both of them panicked and took their lives," Chandran said. Chandran's mother Krishnamma said that the bank officials were calling her daughter-in-law constantly after noon.
The family had fallen into bad times after Chandran lost his job in the Gulf and returned. Chandran also suffered from physical ailments that left him unfit for many skilled outside jobs like masonry and woodwork. The construction of the house had begun when Chandran was in the Gulf. It has an ambitious design, with a curved facade and an ornate balcony. The sit out has Roman-style striped columns. However, the house is left unplastered on the sides, and most of the interiors are left unpainted. Touchingly, the house has been named 'Vaishnavi', the name of the girl who died, Lekha-Chandran duo's only daughter.
Parassala MLA C K Hareendran said that he had negotiated with the bank manager and got more time for the family. "I had talked to the bank manager after panchayat president asked me to intervene on behalf of the family. The bank even promised me that they would give them more time. Now I hear that the bank went ahead with the attachment proceedings in complete disregard of the assurance given me," Hareendran said.
However, bank officials said that the loan was taken 15 years ago. According to Canara Bank assistant manager Sunil Manohar the loan had become a non-performing asset by 2010. From then on, recovery proceedings had begun. An advocate commission was set up for the recovery process. On May 10, when the commission reached the house to take physical possession of the house, Lekha had given a written assurance that the money would be paid on May 14. The Canara Bank official admitted that the family had by now repaid Rs 8 lakh for the Rs 5 lakh housing loan it had taken. He also said that the Rs 6.80 lakh was part of a one-time settlement deal.