Away from the high-decibel Bihar elections, a corporate house has made a quiet entry in the village panchayat polls in Ernakulam district of Kerala. The Anna-Kitex Group of Companies, among the largest private sector employers in Kerala, has fielded 19 candidates in all the wards in the Kizhakkambalam village panchayat polls set to be held on November 5.
The garment manufacturing group, a leading producer of children’s apparel, has its production units in Kizhakkambalam. While the company claims its aim is to make Kizhakkambalam a model village, rival parties allege that it wants to seize control of the panchayat to further its business interests.
The company has fielded candidates from its platform called “Twenty20” under its corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm. It is also contesting district and block level local polls.
“We formed the Twenty20 in 2013 to implement our CSR initiatives. However, political parties were trying to spoil our initiatives by using the power of the panchayat. We want to make Kizhakkambalam village a model panchayat by 2020. Our group is the single largest source of tax for the panchayat,’’ said Anna-Kitex Group managing director Sabu Jacob, who is also the chief coordinator of Twenty20.
“Twenty 20 had even planned an alliance with the CPI(M), but that did not materialise,’’ said Jacob. He said the Twenty20 selected candidates after reviewing public opinion about them.
Jacob said the Anna-Kitex Group has invested in road networks, housing projects for the poor, water supply schemes and other community development projects.
“The Congress-ruled panchayat was opposing the development initiatives of Twenty 20. I have quit the CPI and joined this group. Our candidates belong to all communities — Hindus, Muslims and Christians. They were all linked to political parties earlier, but have joined this group which promises overall development,” said a candidate, K V Jacob.
But Jolly Baby, president of the outgoing panchayat, said: “They want to gain control of the panchayat for the smooth operation of their company. We had denied licence to them, citing contamination of water and wetlands. By gaining control of the panchayat, the group wants to have the final say in such matters.” However, he admitted that the company had implemented several projects in the panchayat.
Denying the allegation, Sabu Jacob said the issue of effluent treatment had been examined by various government agencies which had given a clean chit to the company.
In 2003, soft drink major Coca Cola was forced to close down its bottling plant at Plachimada in Palakkad. Coke lost a legal battle to Perumatti village panchayat, which refused to renew the company’s licence, citing over-exploitation of groundwater and contamination.