Sabu M Jacob, Managing Director of Kitex Garments is assertive and looks younger than his 52 years. He is also the chief coordinator of Twenty20 Kizhakkmbalam (Twenty20), which recently swept the the gram panchayat election. In a three-hour interview, which included a business presentation in his swanky office on the premises of Kitex’s sophisticated garments factory, Jacob talks about Twenty20 and his vision for the village. “If only more industrialists, like the Ambanis and Birlas, got involved in the governance of villages, towns and states,” he tells BusinessLine . Excerpts:

It’s unusual for a business house to get involved in an electoral contest. Why did you take the plunge?

Why not? Business houses can run villages and towns much better than the political parties. With their business-like approach, scientific planning and time-bound execution, companies can bring the kind of development in the country in 20 years that the political parties can’t even in 100. We had to step in because those responsible for developing Kizhakkambalam failed terribly. And Kizhakkambalam is my family’s and my company’s home and we have a stake in its well-being.

Why the name Twenty20?

Obviously, the name was inspired by cricket. Now it is a mission to make Kizhakkambalam the smartest and best governed village in India by 2020. My father, who set up the Anna Aluminium company nearly a half century ago, used to tell us that it was not enough that our family prospered, we needed to help our neighbourhood to prosper too. When he died in 2011, we conducted a large, free medical camp. The camp showed us the extent of ill-health and poverty in the village.

We carried out a survey using professionals to get an idea of people’s needs. We set up a database and categorised the 8,000 households into four categories—the extremely poor, below-poverty line, above poverty-line and the well-off. We realised that drinking water, toilets, house repairs, healthcare and help for farming were the major needs . By setting up T20 in May 2013, we channelized our companies’ CSR funds as well as our personal money to meet these needs.

You seemed to have a running battle with both the Congress and the CPI(M), as well as the previous panchayat council. Why?

That’s not right. We have good relations with all parties. Of course, the local leadership of the Congress has been hostile to us. The Congress guy who moved the High Court against me claiming my company violated environmental norms is a cousin of mine. This was because of some old family feud. The Congress-led panchayat had tried to block our projects under one pretext or the other. The CPI(M) turned against us only recently when they realised that their vote bank was shifting to T20.

There is an allegation that Kitex causes air pollution and water contamination.

The best way to kill an enterprise in Kerala is to raise a pollution allegation. Kitex Garments, which makes infants’ clothes for USA and Europe, is a 100 per cent export-oriented factory; and, it has 100 per cent compliance with environmental regulations. Factories cause pollution, but there should be a mechanism in place to contain it. We supply to international companies such as Wal-Mart and Jockey and their representatives make frequent visits to our facilities to ensure that we comply with international standards, which are 100 times stricter than those in India.

There is also an allegation that you relocated four units from Tiruppur to Kizhakkambalam when the Tamil Nadu authorities forced 200 polluting knitwear units there to close.

We never had a single manufacturing unit outside Kerala.

After 2020, what is the future of T20?

T20 is here to stay. By 2020, Kizhakkambalam will be the best panchayat in the country. And, Twenty20 will return to power to make it even better.

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