Shimla, July 13 (IANS) Small acts of benevolence have turned into an ocean of charity in Himachal Pradesh.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's request to people to contribute generously towards the Chief Minister's Relief Fund instead of buying bouquets and garlands to welcome him at functions has apparently paid off.
From contributions as little as Rs.11 coming from individual donors to a few lakhs from corporate houses, the relief fund which has so far helped over 12,000 people has swelled to Rs.24 crore after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government assumed power in the state in 2008.
A government spokesperson said in the past four and a half years, the chief minister has sanctioned over Rs.23 crore to the poor and needy.
"A majority of the recipients included those who were in dire need of money for (medical) treatment or higher studies," he added.
The chief minister said on an average "we are daily sanctioning Rs.500,000 to Rs.700,000 from the relief fund".
"Now it has become a movement of sorts. Wherever I go, be it a public function or an official engagement, I ask people not to present bouquets, shawls, caps or other mementoes to me and instead contribute towards the relief fund. The people are following this," Dhumal told IANS.
He said he feels elated when people give him money for the relief fund in envelopes at public meetings. "The envelopes contain any amount ranging from Rs.11 to Rs.101, I treat every donation as a goodwill gesture."
The chief minister's office has sanctioned Rs.10 lakh from the relief fund to the Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital in Shimla for the poor patients to be treated on priority in a medical emergency.
"A case is decided on the basis of its merit and the doctors on their own sanction the amount. Later, the permission from the chief minister's office is taken," a government official said.
The state public relations department has come out with a 25-minute documentary on the optimum utilisation of the relief fund for public welfare.
The documentary, screened for the media this week, featured interviews with beneficiaries.
There were some heart-warming stories.
Four years ago, Seema Sood, a gold medalist from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, sought permission from the president to be allowed to die after being bedridden with rheumatoid arthiritis.
She got financial assistance from the state for her treatment in a private hospital. Now, she can move with a walker, and more than that - she has a will to live on.
"I got in touch with Seema's family when I came to know about her plight. Initially, Rs.100,000 was released from the relief fund. However she needed more money and we decided to bear the entire treatment expenses of over Rs.800,000 at the Fortis hospital in Mohali," Dhumal said.
There are thousands of other beneficiaries, most of them girls and women, who received help from the relief fund.
"I have a heart problem. The chief minister has sanctioned Rs.50,000 for my treatment. I will be fine soon," said Sangya, a primary school student.
Apart from Seema and Sangya, there were interviews with 25 people. They included meritorious students who needed funds for higher studies.
Dhumal Wednesday sanctioned Rs.500,000 for the treatment of Sunita Kumari, who is from a small village in Kangra district. She suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukemia and is undergoing treatment at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh.
Public Relations Director B.D. Sharma said the documentary would be screened in villages across the state.
"It will not only motivate the people to donate liberally for the relief fund but also raise awareness about how to proceed to get benefits from it," he added.
BJP legislator Tejwant Negi sold his collection of over 600 Himachali caps to raise Rs.81,000 for the fund in 2009.
Most of the caps were presented to him at various social functions.
Gujarat Ambuja Cement Ltd., Himachal Pradesh State Cooperative Bank, infrastructure group Jaiprakash Associates Ltd. and hydropower major Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. are among the major corporate contributors to the relief fund.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)