What do CPI(M) leaders Bindu, KK Shailaja, Sreeramakrishnan have in common? A keen eye for expensive eyewear

Higher Edu Minister Bindu was the talk of the town when it became known that she had an expensive pair of glasses reimbursed from the already-depleting exchequer.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 08, 2023 | 8:00 AM Updated Nov 08, 2023 | 8:00 AM

Kerala Higher Education Minister R Bindu. (Sourced)

In April this year, Higher Education Minister R Bindu of Kerala purchased a high-end pair of spectacles. Why is this news, you wonder?

It’s news because her prolonged wait to receive reimbursement from the public exchequer for the purchase has now become a contentious topic of discussion in Kerala.

‘Bindu has the means to pay’

The higher education minister personally took up the issue with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, as the cash-strapped LDF-led government had not issued an order granting her ₹30,500 as reimbursement for her brand-new glasses for over six months.

While many social media users interpreted this as a blatant sign of dire financial crisis the state is currently experiencing, some were perplexed as to why a Communist leader would choose such an expensive pair of glasses and request the government to cover the costs.


KK Shailaja addressing a public meeting. (Supplied)

M Shajar Khan, the leader of the collective Save University Campaign Committee, has, on several occasions, revealed numerous irregularities in the higher education sector, which have landed Bindu in difficult situations multiple times.

He pointed out that although the minister has the personal resources to purchase expensive eyeglasses for herself, she prefers that the state, which is severely short on funds, cover the costs.

“Bindu earned a UGC-scale salary as the principal of a college in Thrissur prior to being chosen for Vijayan’s second Cabinet. She has the financial means to cover these costs because her academic career has been lengthy. Her spouse, A Vijayaraghavan, a long-time Parliament member of the CPI(M), also receives a pension,” noted Khan when contacted by South First.

He also remarked, “It’s pretty funny to see that the minister waited for almost six months seeking an order to materialise for the the reimbursement, and finally, the chief minister had to intervene.”

Also read: Celebrations in the time of ‘deep financial trouble’ draw ire

Not the only one with expensive tastes

Government sources told South First that on 28 April, the day she purchased the new eyewear, Bindu turned in the bills for reimbursement. But even by early November, the general administration department had not issued the reimbursement, incurring the higher education minister’s displeasure.

The chief minister stepped in and ordered the department to pay the amount as soon as Bindu brought up the issue with him.

Interestingly, Bindu is not the only CPI(M) minister to favour pricey eyewear purchased with money from the state’s exchequer.

During the first Vijayan-led government, KK Shailaja, the then-health minister, bought eyeglasses worth ₹29,000 that was reimbursed from the exchequer.

Topping that, party leader P Sreeramakrishnan, who was the Speaker in the Legislative Assembly from 2016 to 2021 and is currently the vice-chairman of the Non-Resident Keralite’s Affairs Department (NORKA), purchased high-quality eyeglasses worth ₹49,900 using money from the public coffers.

However, one may argue that the state’s financial situation was not as precarious during those times.

Also read: Cash-strapped Kerala’s Formation Day gala

Their justifications

When Bindu met with the media for a press conference two days ago in Thiruvananthapuram, reporters raised the issue squarely. She flatly refused to answer their questions, declaring that they were unworthy of an answer.

She turned off the microphone and quickly left. The press conference was a part of the state’s cultural festival titled Keraleeyam.

Shailaja, on the other hand, had defended her pricey spectacles when they caused controversy at the time by claiming that she had an eye condition and that her doctor had advised her to get better eyewear. She continued by saying that if she had done anything wrong, she would like to apologise.

Shailaja was accused at the time of forging medical invoices in order to obtain ₹3,81,876. Her husband, K Bhaskaran, who was the then-chairman of the Mattannur Municipality, was also the target of the claims.

Governor Khan

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and P Sreeramakrishnan. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

When Bhaskaran received treatment in a private hospital, it was reported that Shailaja sought reimbursement from the government for the expenses, citing him as her dependent.

It was claimed that the government exchequer paid for his treatment in excess of ₹50,000.

Of the three, Sreeramakrishnan had the most expensive pair of glasses. He justified his purchase at the time by saying that he found it difficult to sit in the Assembly as he was unable to see properly, and that he often had to move his head to look from one side to the other.

“I followed my doctor’s advice and got a better pair of glasses,” he added.

Also read: ‘Tribals as exhibits’ at Kerala government cultural event sparks controversy

Leaders of yore were thrifty

Meanwhile, CPI(M) insiders told South First that the party does not consider the purchase of pricey eyewear by ministers to be particularly noteworthy.

They claimed that in this most recent instance, the only issue is that the minister had to wait six months to receive the reimbursement. They added that even Opposition MLAs are using public funds to purchase pricey eyewear.

In the past, communist ministers and leaders in the state were renowned for their thrift.

Former chief minister, EMS Namboodiripad, once wrote a letter to the proprietor of a textile business pleading with him to lend his daughter two dresses. He requested a month to receive his wage and pay back the money.

Leftist thinker Dr Azad Malayattil stated, “There were leaders and ministers who never permitted their families to travel in official vehicles.”

Of course, the eyewear of the Kerala communists pales in comparison with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Maybach sunglasses that cost $1,995 — more than ₹1.4 lakh at the exchange rate prevailing then.

The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal was rocked by a scandal in 2015 when then-minister Sabitri Mitra demanded more than ₹1 lakh for a pair of glasses and a few medications.

By circumventing the standard procedures, the then-state minister of refugees and rehabilitation claimed reimbursement of ₹10,198 for medications and ₹99,880 for the pair of glasses.