On June 29, Kitex Group a large private-sector employer in Kerala announced that it was no longer interested in investing in the communist-ruled state. At the “Ascend Global Investors Meet” held in Kochi in January 2020 Kitex were the first to promise a Rs 3,500 crore project in Kerala. They were supposed to open an apparel park in Kochi and establish industrial parks in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Palakkad.
However, recently the company alleged state-sponsored persecution against them. Earlier this week Kitex Group Managing Director, Sabu M Jacob said, “After I disclosed the plan to drop proposed investment in Kerala, I have got queries from other states.” He did not have to wait long and at least 10 states contacted them, including UP, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
This week, almost 9000 employees of Kitex went on a 30-minute protest holding placards that said ‘Save Kitex’ and offered solidarity with their MD Sabu. From the look of things, this protest might soon end just like a couple of other protests that were recently seen in Kerala -“Save Gaza” and “Save Lakshadweep”. Unfortunately, this time around many employees are about to lose their jobs and this is a genuine cause of concern especially for the majority of women workers.
On Friday Sabu and 5 of his corporate staff are going to Hyderabad to meet the Telangana Industries Minister KT Rama Rao, the son of CM K Chandrashekar Rao. They will be travelling on a private jet chartered by the Telangana government that has been waiting for them at Kochi Airport.
“While our neighbouring states give a red carpet welcome to investors, the Kerala government treats them as traitors. They are branded as bourgeoisie, exploiters, encroachers, capitalists and criminals and humiliated in public. Whoever invests in Kerala will lose peace of mind and will be driven to suicide,” lamented Sabu.
Meanwhile, Kerala Industries Minister P Rajeev (having assumed office barely one month ago) easily brushed aside the allegations as politically motivated. He had reason to ‘blame’ politics. Though the whole drama has been the talk of possibly every Keralite, Rajeev said that the Kitex Group hadn’t reached out to the state government or any department with any grievance. Rajeev said that Sabu had insulted Kerala since he mentioned that Kerala should learn from UP and CM Yogi on how to bring investment.
Out of 29 states, Kerala currently ranks 28th in Ease of Doing Business, having dropped a dozen places from last year. UP which was far behind in the rankings has come to second place, emerging as a favourite destination for investors. According to latest statistics, there are 60 lakh Keralites working outside the state(35 lakhs in the Gulf countries alone) and the state has a 16% unemployment rate at home. Most of these unemployed are educated and will have to leave soon since they have educational loans to pay.
The Congress MLA PT Thomas said that Sabu’s plant is creating environmental hazards in the Kadaprayar river. That allegation ceased to exist as soon as Sabu offered Rs 50 Crores if his violations could be proved. The local Kunnathunad CPM MLA Adv PV Sreenijin says Sabu is dumping waste into the rivers and that he does not pay his labour decent wages and that they are forced to live in filthy conditions.
Sabu accused the consecutive state regimes of using officials to harass his garment processing plant in Kizhakkambalam panchayat of Ernakulam district. He said that 11 teams of officers from various departments raided the company in the last month, including teams from the dept of labour, the pollution control board, factories and boilers, and even a team led by the district collector. They would arrive in huge teams of 40 to 50 officers, violating covid protocols and search the factory premises. They then grilled employees for hours and now they have charged 73 violations against Kitex.
Suspiciously, Kizhakkambalam lies just next to Perumbavur, a known terrorist hub. Perumbavur has 100s of plywood companies that are owned by shady characters and allegedly run by mafia operatives. They bring in labour including Rohingyas and settle them in dinghy sheds. In the interest of self-preservation, no pollution control officers or labour dept staff ever visit there.
During the early 70s Late M. C. Jacob, an agriculturist started Anna Aluminium and added spices and later his son Sabu started manufacturing dhotis. The older Jacob passed away in 2011. Now under Sabu Jacob, Kitex is said to be one of the top kids wear companies in the world. Curiously, both father and son are not known to offer monetary ‘donations’ to any particular political outfit and have chosen a more challenging path.
Sabu says that back in the 70s and 80s, trade unions killed the industries in the state. The 1990s brought a haphazard Panchayati Raj that benefited pseudo-environmentalists, bureaucrats and politicians who do not want the projects to flourish in the state. “They scare away those who won’t yield to their interests,” he said.
Sabu claimed that Kitex/ Anna was attacked in 1973, 1977, 1988-90, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2012 and now. In 1997 the senior Jacob was hacked 70 times while he was being dragged down a road. Congress were in power then under CM K Karunakaran.
In 2001, Congress came to power and AK Anthony assumed office in the evening. Even before the rest of the ministers had taken oath Congress goons attacked Kitex. Around 200 of them stormed the factory premises around 10.30 pm. They barged in and broke 800 windows of the women’s quarters while the ladies were resting inside, demolished structures, burned 9 vehicles, and threw 80 odd handmade bombs.
The next day the police came to arrest Sabu! All it takes is a refusal to pay extortion money to either a local political leader or a petty bureaucrat that leads to such troubles, Sabu says. The 2001 attack was revenge for ignoring an order to pay up an obscene amount to Benny Behanan. Benny is now the sitting Congress MP from nearby Chalakudy, having won by a margin of more than 132,000 votes.
Incidentally, back in 2012, Kitex had participated in another investor meet called ‘Emerging Kerala’ and offered the then Congress government a 262 crore expansion plan. Barely two weeks later he backed out citing harassment from local self-government bodies, state government and its various departments. Sabu said that he had taken up the matter with the then CM Oommen Chandy. “However no action was taken”, he said.
During a recent interview, Sabu said that in 2012 he was approached by 4 who looked like ‘terrorists’. They mentioned their political outfit and wanted 50 lakhs for its district conference. He says that unlike back then, now that party is famous. The district office-bearers mentioned an ‘operation’ that they were recently involved in. Sabu fearing that he too might lose an ‘arm’ or a leg agreed to pay 50,000/-. The goons rejected that offer and left. The very next week citing pollution a committee was formed and a strike began in the locality against Kitex.
This is a political issue. Sabu began investing in politics around 2012 when he formed a party called Twenty20 and won a few seats in the local body elections. They began bringing in vegetables from Tamil Nadu in their own vehicles that were returning from there empty. They started selling them at Kunnathnadu at Tamil Nadu rates, much cheaper than at other places in Ernakulam. Twenty20 moved into groceries and more charity work in and around that area. They found that the best alternative to prevent corruption and extortion was to field their own candidates (who are paid monthly allowances by Kitex).
The recently concluded assembly elections saw them contest such candidates in 8 seats. Ernakulam as a whole is the Christian belt that traditionally voted for the Congress and its allies. Twenty20 ate into this vote bank and naturally, this helped the communists more than anyone else.
Though Twenty20 lost in all, they bagged 42000 odd votes in Kunnathnad by eating into the Congress vote share. The congress still got around 49000 votes losing to CPM’s PV Sreenijin who got 52000. CPM gained in all 8 seats. Foolishly enough led by local MLA Sreenijin, it is the same communists who are opposing Sabu.
This has brought to light his own role in the scheme of things into public glare, once again. Sreenijin is none other than the son-in-law of the highly controversial ex-Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan. He was the CJI from 2007 to 2010 and a High Court judge since 2000. Balakrishnan tried to exempt the Office of the Chief Justice of India from the purview of the Right to Information Act, wanted to give “personal autonomy” of rape victims to decide on whether they should marry the perpetrator or choose to give birth to a child conceived through forced crime, stated that pornography sites and hate speeches should be banned from the internet, passed a judgment stating that journaling on the web anything hateful even against a political party is liable for censorship and passed a judgment prohibiting narcoanalysis in interrogations that has helped many high profile criminals evade justice.
In April 2006, PV Sreenijan got a Congress ticket to contest the Assembly elections from Njarackal reserved assembly constituency. This was the first time Kerala came to know about Balakrisnnan’s clout in New Delhi. Balakrishnan allegedly started pumping in his ill-gotten wealth into real estate deals through his family members. Sreenijan who barely had a couple of lakhs to his name now has an election affidavit that runs into crores. By 2010 these shady deals made Congress oust Sreenijan and by 2016 he started working for the CPM, ultimately joining then in 2018. The one who handheld him during that period is now Kerala’s Industries minister. He is also the minister in charge of law!
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