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Kasargod begins to look beyond the Gulf
K Praveen Kumar | TNN
Kasargod: Sunday night is hardly sleepy in Kasargod town. The parking lot of Lums, a high-end restaurant near the old bus stand, is full of Lexus SUVs, Toyota Camrys and other luxury cars, each with a fancy registration number. Despite the light rain and the air of gloom that pervades the town, which has lost a number of citizens in the air crash in Mangalore, the mood inside the restaurant is upbeat. A group of burqa-clad women and children try to catch the attention of the busy staff, a family is busy tucking into food and waiters scurry around taking orders in Malayalam, Tulu, English, Kannada and Hindi.
‘‘This town is changing. There is a lot of activity here now,’’ says K M Ahammed, editor of the evening daily Utharadesham for the past five decades. ‘‘The entire economy of Kasargod is based on the money from the Gulf, and this money is driving change in the town,’’ he says. More than 2.5 lakh people from Kasaragod are working in the Gulf.
Kasargod, located at the northern tip of Kerala, with the Western Ghats to the east and the Arabian Sea to the west, often falls outside the radar of the Kerala government, and is, consequently, one of the most backward districts in the state. Mangalore is closer, both emotionally and geographically, to the people of Kasargod than Kannur. And naturally, there is a crossover of culture and trade. ‘‘However, if agriculturists sell their produce in Mangalore, it is considered smuggling. So most of us have given up farming and our children have no option but to leave India and work in the Gulf,’’ says Salim Siddique, an arecanut farmer in Udhuma.
Ahammed says that though development projects were not undertaken, money was never a problem for Kasargod. ‘‘The money was always concentrated in the hands of a few and was never channelled into overall social development,’’ says Ahammed, whose newspaper campaigned for the formation of the district in the early 80s. This is set to change with a number of development schemes and projects planned for the district that celebrated its 26th birthday on May 24. ‘‘Upcoming industrial projects will create a lot of employment opportunities. The districts growing tourism segment is also expected to generate jobs,’’ says district collector Anand Singh.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is to commission a unit in Kinfra Park at Seethankuzhi, an IT park is to come up at Cheemeni, and a Central University is to start operations soon.
With Bekal Fort gaining popularity among foreign and domestic tourists, the district tourism promotion council has set up a Bekal Resorts Development Corporation. Two five-star resorts are already up and running at Bekal and three more are under construction. Lack of facilities for higher education has been another disadvantage. ‘‘When the Central University comes up, this will change. There are many investors showing interest in starting educational institutions. As education improves, so will employability,’’ says Singh.
Residents hope these projects will bring about much-needed change. ‘‘More than three-fourths of Gulf migrants from Kasargod are engaged in menial jobs. We hope the new projects will create better opportunities for the people,’’ says Ahammed.
Political affiliations have also affected development work. Though the district is known to lean towards CPM, the Kasargod municipality has been a bastion of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). BJP also has a strong presence in select areas.
‘‘The strength of political parties changes from one village to the next. When the parties compete with one another for projects, it puts a spoke in the wheel of development,’’ observes Abdul Rahman, district information officer. Standing together has always benefited this town. ‘‘We were united when we fought for a separate district 26 years ago. We worked together to save lives during the air crash two days ago,’’ says Ahammed. If the residents stand together for the cause of development, Kasargod could soon be one of the hottest industrial destinations in Kerala.
A street in Thuruthi ward of Kasaragod municipality that was recently named `Gaza', a reference to the disputed strip of land between Israel and Egypt, under Palestinian self-rule, has got intelligence agencies interested.
The agencies suspect a possible radical influence behind the naming, considering the locality's proximity to Padane, the hometown of most of the 21 Kerala youths who have gone missing since 2016 and are suspected to have joined the Islamic State terror outfit.
The road adjacent to the Thuruthi Juma Masjid was named `Gaza' last month, and subsequently inaugurated by Kasaragod district panchayat president AGC Basheer. “I was not the person who was supposed to inaugurate the street as the area falls under the municipality's jurisdiction. But I had to step in at the last moment,“ Basheer said.
Though municipality funds were believed to have been used to concretise the street, municipal authorities claim they are clueless about the naming. Municipal chairperson Beefathima Ibrahim said she does not have any knowledge about such a street under her jurisdiction.
But local BJP members said the naming was part of a “deliberate attempt to change the names of various areas in Kasaragod“. “When such matters come to the municipal council, there will be a debate and if the name is not of public acceptance, it will be rejected. For the same reason, many such names are not brought to the attention of the council,“ said Kasaragod municipality opposition leader P Ramesh. Kasaragod district has been on the radar of Intelligence Bureau and National Investigation Agency , following the case of the missing youths.