A success story back home, Kerala man linked to tragedy | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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A success story back home, Kerala man linked to tragedy

Jun 14, 2024 08:14 AM IST

He began with a small job as an engineer at a private firm in Al-Ahmadi governorate with a monthly pay of 60 Kuwaiti dinars, around ₹16,000

Kochi: For most in Niranam, a largely agrarian village filled with paddy farms and duck breeding centres on the banks of the Pampa river in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, 69-year-old KG Abraham was a success story. The village called him “babychan”--a combination of his pet name “Baby” and “ichayan”--a term used to denote “elder brother”, a marker of respect. For it was from this tiny village, often besieged by floods in the monsoon, that in 1976, armed with a civil engineering degree flew to Kuwait, with dreams of building a life and a career.

Smoke billows after a fire broke out in a building, in Mangaf, Kuwait, Wednesday. (PTI)
Smoke billows after a fire broke out in a building, in Mangaf, Kuwait, Wednesday. (PTI)

He began with a small job as an engineer at a private firm in Al-Ahmadi governorate with a monthly pay of 60 Kuwaiti dinars, around 16,000. But seven years later, Abraham set up his own company NBTC. Over the years, the company grew and grew, and Abraham transformed from one of the lakhs of Malayali expatriates in the Gulf to an industrialist with diverse business interests—from oil to hotels to civil construction to logistics and retailing.

While Abraham settled in Kuwait, villagers in Niranam said that he never forgot his roots. “He did not abandon the village that sent him to Kuwait. He made sure to hire many people over the generations from the village. Today, there are only a few families in the village which doesn’t have at least one member working in his companies in Kuwait. In many ways, his success changed the face of the village,” said Jolly George, a ward member in Niranam whose husband is a relative of Abraham.

But on Wednesday morning, Abraham’s name came to be associated with a tragedy in Kuwait, when a major fire broke out in a building leased out to NBTC group, a company of which he is the managing director and partner. 49 people died, of which 45 were Indians, and 23 were from Kerala.

Kuwait’s interior minister Sheikh Fahad Al-Yousuf A-Sabah, who visited the scene of the fire, suggested potential negligence and said that the fire had been caused as a “result of the greed of the company and building owners.” The Kuwaiti government has issued a slew of instructions, particularly against officials of the Al Ahmadi administration.

The company has announced ex gratia of 8 lakh each and a job to the dependants, medical aid for the injured.

When HT attempted to reach Abraham for comment, family members, and an official of the Central chambers of commerce who knows him closely, said that he did not wish to speak to the media.

In Niranam, Jolly’s family was among the those affected by the tragedy, with her husband’s cousin, Mathew George(52) and his relative Shibi Varghese(52) were both among the dead. Overall, two of the dead are from Niranam. “It is such a sad incident and the shock still hasn’t left us. The minute we heard about the fire in Mangaf block, we knew they lived there and tried calling. We though they may have been injured and waited for hours.

But by Wednesday evening, confirmation had come that they had died,” Jolly told HT over the phone.

Apart from his interests in Kuwait, KGA Group owned at least two hotels — KGA Elite Continental in Thiruvalla and Crowne Plaza in Kochi — and he was also one of the producers of the 2024 Malayalam film ‘Aadujeevitham’ (The Goat Life) which told the story of a Malayali migrant who was cheated by his employer in the Gulf and tortured for years on a goat farm.

In February 2023, Abraham hit the headlines in Kerala when he lashed out at the LDF government in Kerala accusing them of financial irregularities in the Chief Ministers Disaster Relief Fund. “It is decided that I will not give anything to any politician. The funds that we gave directly to people in Niranam and other neighbouring panchayats have been utilised and I am happy. But the other funds we gave (to the government), have flowed away. I feel fooled,” he said on February 24, 2023.

The government did not respond to Abraham’s allegations.

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