Aspiring entrepreneurs harassed to the point of breakdown by local officials is a theme Kerala is familiar with. Some of the finest Malayalam films – 'Midhunam' and 'Varavelpu' for instance – had shown their plight with delightful doses of black humour.
But none of the protagonists of these films had the tragic fate of Sajen Parayil, a young NRI entrepreneur who had hung himself on his wife's saree on June 17 after the CPM-ruled Anthoor municipality in Kannur refused to grant him the necessary permits for a large convention centre he had constructed investing Rs 15 crore.
The issue was raised in the Assembly by the opposition on Wednesday. The opposition painted it as an instance of the Left's unfriendly and insensitive attitude towards entrepreneurs. A year ago another NRI, Sugathan, took his life after he was refused to begin a workshop in his land near Punalur in Kollam.
Minister for local bodies A C Moideen seemed to hint that Sajen Parayil had committed suicide for reasons unrelated to the grant of the permit. “Sajen was the son-in-law of Paloli Purushothaman in whose name the permit was sought,” Moideen said. Further, hinting that Sajen had other problems, Moideen said Sajen's brother Sreejith had given a statement to the police saying his brother had suffered from serious mental stress. “There was no suicide note either,” he said. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said there was indeed a suicide note and wanted to know why it had gone missing.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, making an unusual intervention, took a different stance. He laid the entire blame of Sajen's suicide on the pigheadedness of local body officials, virtually exonerating the political leadership. He recounted an old incident of how even he and a panchayat president were unable to convince a panchayat secretary to give a family a fair deal.
Congress MLA Sunny Joseph, who sought to move the adjournment motion on the issue, said the convention centre was constructed adhering strictly to the plan approved by the chief town planner. “Even the district town planner said the construction was beyond reproach, wondering why the occupancy certificate was not granted,” Sunny Joseph said. He accused the local body leaders of arbitrarily refusing the permit.
“Sajen secured certificates from both the Pollution Control Board and the Fire and Safety Department, and still was denied permits,” Joseph said.
When he was repeatedly refused the occupancy certificate, Joseph said Sajen met the CPM's then Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan. “It was on Jayarajan's advice that the district town planner visited the site and gave a clean chit,” Joseph said.
Sajen's request was rejected even after P Jayarajan's intervention. “When he met the municipality chairperson (CPM leader P K Shyamala), she expressed her displeasure at Sajen for having gone above her and met Jayarajan,” Sunny Joseph said.
He said the municipality's only complaint was that the ramp was wider by 5 cm. Sunny said Sajen had invested into the building all the money he had made slogging for years in Nigeria. “I had been to this convention centre for a marriage and I found it so beautifully made. He had named the building after his son Partha,” Sunny said.
Sunny Joseph also trashed the minister's statement that Sajen was only the son-in-law of the man who owned the plot. “Sajen himself is the owner of the plot. Since he was working in Nigeria, he had given his father-in-law the right to put signatures on his behalf, and had also made both his wife and his father-in-law partners in his venture,” the Congress MLA said.
The minister said the municipality had found some problems with the building. “There were certain deviations from the approved plan,” Moideen said. The building had violated the stipulation that construction should be at least three metres away from the public road. The minister said the owners of the building had also given a written assurance that they would not use the encroached space as utility area.
Moideen said two separate investigations have been ordered after Sajen's death. One will be carried out by the regional director of Urban Affairs Department and the other will be conducted by the vigilance wing under the chief town planner. “If any official is found to have caused unnecessary delays, strict and exemplary action will be taken,” Moideen said. The chief minister, too, assured a fair probe.
The opposition but demanded a police investigation into the issue, and walked out when the minister did not respond.
The 49-year-old builder committed suicide at Kottali in Kannur district after he spent months running from pillar to post for getting the ownership certificate for the convention centre his construction company had built at Bakkalam, a 'CPM village'.
According to relatives, Sajen Parayil took the extreme step after multiple attempts to secure the property documents from Anthoor municipality office failed to yield any result. The civic body is ruled by CPM and its writ runs unchallenged as the municipal council has no opposition members.
Sajen had built the convention centre at a cost of Rs 15 crore. His troubles began as the municipality issued a notice to demolish the building, citing faulty construction. After he complained, the CPM district leadership intervened and a council, including the municipality's planning department, conducted an inspection in October 2018.
Officials at Sajen's company, Partha Builders, said the town planning officer's report did not flag any faults in construction.
Sajen had reportedly told his relatives and friends that his file was being delayed over lame reasons. The police have registered a case for unnatural death. His funeral was held after an autopsy. Sajen is survived by wife Beena and children Parthiv and Arpitha.