Shaju Philip : Thiruvananthapuram, Sun Jul 15 2012, 02:58 hrs
Fifty-four senior journalists in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram have together defaulted on a payment of Rs 19.37 crore for houses they secured from the Kerala State Housing Board (KSHB) more than a decade ago under a scheme for the media and have been lobbying with the government to waive the amount.
Under the KSHB scheme launched in 2000, 54 two-bedroom (1,500 sq ft) and three-bedroom (1,700 sq ft) flats were built on a 1.5 acre plot in NCC Nagar, Peroorkkada, and allotted for a ‘Journalists Colony’. The cost of a two-bedroom flat was tentatively fixed at Rs 7.62 lakh and for a three-bedroom flat at Rs 10.28 lakh, according to information obtained by The Sunday Express through the Right To Information Act.
The houses were allotted in batches from 2000. The rest of the amount was to be paid in instalments to the KSHB, which had built the houses after borrowing money from HUDCO.The three-storey flats were constructed in seven blocks along the periphery of a one-and-a-half acre plot.
The price of the flats was fixed by the KSHB after deducting an existing government subsidy of Rs 50,000 for journalists against their housing loans. The allottees occupied the flats after paying Rs 1.25 lakh each. The equated monthly instalment (EMI) for the flats was within the range of Rs 2,500-4,000.
While five of the 54 journalists paid the first few instalments, the rest have not paid a single instalment after taking possession of the property. Further, 23 of the 54 journalists gave the houses on rent in violation of norms and without the approval of the KSHB. With interest on the unpaid loans mounting, each loan has now grown to between Rs 25 lakh and Rs 29 lakh.
The defaulters include 11 journalists from Malayala Manorama, Kerala’s largest-selling daily, and five from Mathrubhumi, the second largest.
They include the Kerala resident editor of Deccan Chronicle-Asian Age John Mary, Kerala Kaumudi deputy editor P P James, Malayala Manorama bureau chief John Mundakkayam and Congress mouthpiece Veekshanam’s resident editor J Ajithkumar.
When contacted, Journalists Colony Allottees Association president Janardhanan Nair said a meeting of the journalists housing scheme committee would look into the possibility of settling the matter on July 18. “Housing Minister K M Mani has suggested new prices for the flats. But the finance and the housing departments have raised objections as the minister’s plan would cost the state exchequer,” Nair said.
Within years of getting the houses, the journalists began lobbying with the state government to waive their loans, KSHB sources said. In 2004, the Congress-led government was said to be in favour of writing the loans off but did not go through with the plan. The Left Democratic Front government which followed did not give in to the pressure from the journalists and asked them to clear their dues through a one-time settlement plan.
But the journalists bought time through their collective pressure, the sources said. They said successive housing ministers would seek the opinion of the finance and housing departments over writing these dues off and the departments would always oppose the proposal.
The KSHB has also repeatedly issued eviction notices to the defaulters under housing board rules and the last was issued in June 2011. But the eviction process was stopped by the Congress-led UDF government. KSHB sources said the political leadership of the UDF government is in favour of waiving the loan or considerably reducing it.
The government wants the KSHB to recommend such a move to be able to approve it but KSHB officials are unwilling due to the fear of possible litigation and investigations.
KHSB sources said the the journalists were reluctant to settle the dues under one-time-settlement scheme, which had been found acceptable to even BPL families. They added that several journalists had bought houses from the board elsewhere in Kerala but the refusal to pay back was unique to the state capital.
S S Satheesh (Kerala Kaumudi), B Manickam (Janayugam), N S Subhash (Veekshanam), S Ajayakumar, (Sakal), Janardhanan Nair (News Today), K Ajith Kumar (Kerala Kaumudi), John Mary (Deccan Chronicle), T P Kunhahammed (Chandrika), V V Venugopal (Kerala Kaumudi), S Krishna Kumar (NDTV), Maxon Ajay (NDTV), Sanu George Thomas (Malayalam Manorama), Poovachal Sadasivan (Sahakarana Mekhala), Mangalathkonam Krishnan (Janasradha), Sonichan P Joseph (Malayala Manorama), Paul Philip (Kairali TV), R Venugopal (Kerala Kaumudi), Chandrakumar (Mathrubhumi), G Vinod (Malayala Manorama), Sabu John (Deepika), B Murali (Malayala Manorama), S R Vinod (Surya TV), Kariyam Ravi (Krishikkaran Monthly), P P James (Kerala Kaumudi), Bimal Thampi (Madhyamam), K S Ashik (Jaya TV), V Mohan Nair (Southern Star Daily), T K Santhosh Kumar (Kerala Kaumudi), J Ajith Kumar (Veekshanam), George Varghese (Malayala Manorama), Sudeep Sam Varghese (Malayala Manorama), S L Shyam (Deepika), Rajashekharan Pillai (Mathrubhumi), B Jayachandran (Malayala Manorama), Siby P Mathew (Deepika), Rajeev Gopalakrishnan (Malayala Manorama), S Anil Kumar (Deepika), Jossy Joseph (Deepika), P Saji Kumar (Malayala Manorama), Santhosh Kumar (Mangalam), Kumari Jayasree (Sahakarana Mekhala daily), Wills Philip (Surya TV), John Mundakkayam (Malayala Manorama), K Ramesh (Varthamanam), Muhammed Asharaf (Varthamanam), Radhakrishnan Nair (Mathrubhumi), Manoj Bharathi (Indiavision), V A Gireesh (Amritha TV, power of attorney of Anil Emmanuel), P Kishore (Malayala Manorama), C P Shylaja (Mathrubhumi), Beenamole (Veekshanam), Sindu Kumar (Indiavision), E Basheer (Madhyamam), Aravid Sasi (Metro Vartha)
Five journalists who had started repaying the loan but later defaulted
T P Kunhumuhammed(17 installments), John Mary (5 installments), N S Subhash (4 installments), Manickam (3 installments) and S Jayakumar (2 installments)