The January 23 suicide of Valayath Joseph, a differently abled man from Kozhikode district, sparked Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) protests in the Kerala Assembly on January 29 (Monday) even as Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal rejected the charge that pending payments of the social security pension had led Joseph to take his own life.
UDF members stormed the well of the House brandishing placards after Speaker A.N. Shamseer denied leave for an adjournment motion to discuss the suicide of Joseph, aka V. Pappachan, a resident of Chakkittapara. The House was in uproar for several minutes with the Speaker proceeding with the day’s business, following which the UDF members left the hall in protest.
Congress’s P.C. Vishnunadh, who sought leave for the adjournment motion, alleged that the pension payments for five months were pending. The LDF government has been busy spinning a “PR narrative” aimed at creating the impression that the monthly payments were a “charity” shown by it, he said.
Charges baseless: Balagopal
Mr. Balagopal termed the Opposition allegations “baseless.” Joseph had written to the Chakkittapara panchayat secretary on November 9 threatening to take his own life unless he was paid his pension. He had since then received the ₹1,600 monthly pension payments – his own and his mentally challenged daughter’s as well – in November and December. This was in addition to the two monthly payments by the government in August for Onam, said Mr. Balagopal.
In the past one year, Joseph received ₹52,400 as pension and wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MGNREGS). In 2023, he had received ₹24,400 as pension. He was also paid ₹28,000 in wages under the employment guarantee scheme between April 1, 2023 and January 2024. In view of his special condition, the panchayat had even made arrangements for him to work in his own compound under the employment guarantee scheme, the Minister said.
“The government has also been paying his daughter’s pension on humanitarian grounds although her residence at a shelter home run with government grant made her ineligible for it,” the Minister said.
Mr. Balagopal also noted that Joseph had threatened suicide thrice before, once in 2016 and twice in 2019, raising various demands.
Assembly misled: Satheesan
Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan accused the Finance Minister of misleading the Assembly on the issue.
“The victim himself had stated beforehand that he was taking his own life as he had not received his pension. The LDF government was giving priority to extravagance and corruption and not the timely payment of the social security pensions,” he alleged.
The UDF also sought to demolish a Left Democratic Front (LDF) narrative that social security pension payments had been pending for 18 months during the Oommen Chandy-led UDF government’s rule.
Armed with Assembly documents, Mr. Satheesan and Mr. Vishnunadh argued that back then, the pension payments had run into arrears only for the months from November 2014 to January 2015, totalling only ₹806 crore. The delay, they said, was due to technical reasons connected with the direct benefit transfer (DBT) of the pensions.