Thiruvananthapuram: Unfazed by the grim political challenges awaiting the Congress-led UDF in the Lok Sabha polls, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has been criss crossing the state with his `Mass Contact Programme` by directly engaging with people, mostly the less privileged, and pulling crowds.
The second phase of the unique outreach campaign, which won the UN award for public service in July, has already seen Chandy meeting hundreds in four districts and the exercise is to be completed by the year-end covering the remaining 10 districts.
After a brief hospitalisation for injuries he suffered in the stone-pelting allegedly by LDF workers during a visit to politically-volatile Kannur recently, 70-year-old Chandy resumed the Jana Samparka Paripadi (JSP) at Malappuram and Pathanamthitta districts this month, spending over 20 hours at a stretch in each place.
The LDF opposition, however, terms the programme as a "populist stunt" at the best and a "mere political gimmick" at the worst.
LDF leaders have argued that this kind of an exercise would only erode the efficacy of the grass-root level administration and local bodies and the whole personality- centred exercise was conceived as a short cut to deflect public attention from the failures of the" scam-tainted government" and the infighting in the Congress in the state.
While continuing its boycott of Chandy over the solar scam, the LDF has refrained from disrupting the programme.
According to Chandy, the thrust of the campaign is to bridge the gap between the people and the government by removing the menace of "red tape" which comes in the way of just and speedy delivery of services. The experience gained from the campaign would be factored in to update official rules and procedures for better governance.
In the first phase of the JSP last year, over five lakh
petitions were received from 14 districts and a vast majority of them settled and a few left out involved legal hitches or beyond consideration.
The second phase was launched last month in the politically charged atmosphere with the opposition CPI(M)-led LDF running a virulent campaign over the solar scam.
The JSP was conceived as a platform for the head of the government to directly meet the people, hear their complaints and take all possible action on them then and there itself.
"Though initially, many an eyebrow was raised, the skepticism soon gave way to hope as it became a success in the first round itself, not just due to the turnout of people but also in terms of the results it produced," a spokesperson for the Chief Minister said.
The programme is structured in such a way that the petitions are invited 30 days before its schedule in each district and each one of them would be sent to the district administration for screening and making recommendations.
The identified petitioners are then invited to attend the JSP giving them fixed time slots. At the JSP held in Ernakulam, where Chandy spent nearly 16 hours from 9 in the morning, 14218 petitions were heard and benefits of over Rs 2.02 crore sanctioned on the spot.
Besides, 14 families were assigned small pieces of land under the Zero Landless scheme, title deeds for 323 people disbursed, 632 families allotted BPL ration cards and 40 physically challenged persons got motorised tricycles.