Thiruvananthapuram: The tragic death of a woman and her daughter who set themselves ablaze on Tuesday after a nationalised bank repeatedly threatened to go ahead with attachment proceedings for housing loan default has triggered widespread condemnation across the state.

Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac sought an explanation from the Canara Bank in connection with the gruesome incident.

Lekha, 40, and her daughter Vaishnavi, 19, a BBA student, set themselves on fire after pouring kerosene on them when they were alone in their house near Marayamuttom.
The duo decided to take the extreme step after receiving frequent calls from the bank through the day to repay the loan or face attachment proceedings.

While Vaishnavi died on the way to hospital, Lekha succumbed to her injuries later in the evening. The police has ordered a probe into the incident.

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Thiruvananthapuram: …The Vellarda CI will investigate the case under the supervision of Neyyattinkara DySP.

Colletor K. Vasuki has submitted a preliminary report in which she has confirmed the allegations of harassment levelled by the family against the bank.

The case pertains to a housing loan of `5 lakh taken by Lekha’s husband Rudran Chandran from the Neyyattinkara branch of the Canara Bank in 2005. As he was away in the Gulf, it was his wife who was dealing with the bank.

Chandran, a carpenter by profession, lost his job in the Gulf which landed his family in severe debt. Down with physical ailments, he was forced to take up unskilled jobs. ‘We paid back `8 lakh. The bank was insisting on repaying the remaining `6.80 lakh. We were expecting a buyer to purchase the land and house for `24 lakh. Last week a clear assurance was given to the bank officials that Rs 5 lakh would be repaid once the transaction takes place. Even the buyer had spoken to the bank officials assuring that he would hand over the money directly to them,’ he said.

But with the man who promised to purchase the land backing out, the bank officials started making threatening calls on his wife’s phone. The woman and her daughter were panicked over this forcing them to end their lives.

Isaac slams Canara Bank Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the Canara Bank had gone against the state government’s well-stated policy that houses should not be attached for loan default. The government’s policy is to provide house to each family.

The banks could attach the adjoining land but not the house. The question is not whether the bank is legally right or not. If they had any social commitment, the bank officials would have thought twice before attaching a house where a family comprising two women resided.

Isaac said banks will have to reconsider their existing policies on repayment of loans. ‘We will convene a State-Level Bankers Committee meeting in the backdrop of this tragic incident and discuss the issue in detail. But for the moment, the bank should pay adequate compensation to the family,’ he said.

He admitted that the government had limited powers over banks as they are governed by the RBI Act. ‘We have limited powers. But the government can take decisions in SLBC. In the previous meetings, the Canara Bank had shown a positive attitude. But the move to attach the house was clearly against the spirit of the decision,’ he said.

Isaac said the next SLBC is likely to be convened only after the counting of the Lok Sabha polls on May 23.

Local MLA had intervened in the matter: Parassala MLA C.K. Hareendran said he had personally negotiated with the bank manager to seek more time. ‘I had spoken to the bank manager following the local panchayat president’s request to intervene in the matter. The bank officials promised to give additional time. However, they went ahead with attachment proceedings against the assurance given to me. It was not a humanitarian move on their part,’ he added.

Bank clarifies Meanwhile, Canara Bank Deputy General Manager Kerala Circle in a statement issued here said that Mr Chandran had taken loan on November 2005. The loan had become a non-performing asset by 2010. When an advocate commission set up for recovery process visited their house on May 10, his wife had given a written assurance that they would repay the remaining amount of `6,80,000 on May 14 as a one-time settlement.

The one time settlement was announced following the application submitted by Mr Chandran to the advocate commission. This was a normal procedure in all such cases which are under the consideration of the court.

He maintained that the bank officials had not put pressure or threatened Mr Chandran and his family.

Protests against bank officials. Protests broke out in the area with local residents accusing the bank of harassing the family. People blocked the Karakonam- Parassala road demanding registration of a murder case against the officials who had allegedly threatened the family.

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