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Jan 8, 2009

One More Coimbatore Hero

Born in a family of affluent landed gentry, V.C. Vellingiri Gounder had the courage to stick to the Gandhian principle of prohibition, foregoing huge earnings and braving the threat of the British officials. Pulavar Kuzhandhai, in his “Kongu Kulamanigal”, describes Gounder as one who followed every principle that Gandhiji espoused. He was one among the handful in the region who had the wherewithal to remit a land tax of Rs 2,000 as early as 1920 (equivalent to a fortune now).

Despite having thousands of coconut and palm trees in his farm, which were being used for tapping toddy that fetched substantial income during his father’s days, he declined to permit tapping from even a single tree. When nobody had the guts to speak against tapping toddy as it was considered a crime, Gounder did put an end to it as advised by the Mahatma. When he entered the arena of prohibition, a large number of trees in the Vellakinar area were not given for tapping and some of them were even felled.

Gounder, who had to prematurely end his college education in Coimbatore following the demise of his father to take care of his family, was dedicated to the well-being of the poor brethren, especially with regard to education. When not even 10 per cent of the population was educated due to lack of schools in rural areas and also shortage of funds to pay fees, Gounder instituted a scholarship of Rs. 100 (a princely sum those days) per month towards the fees for the poor high school and college students .This was in vogue for almost a quarter century till his demise. And there are any number of people who have become top level officials, advocates, engineers and doctors thanks to his munificence. He had special consideration for Dalit students for whom also he spent considerably. Besides, he set up a hostel at Race Course in Coimbatore for rural students to stay and study. He was interested in women’s education as well.

He was elected to the Madras Legislative Council in 1921 and Legislative Assembly in 1924. He also became a member of the Central Legislature in 1933.His focus has always been on agriculture and infrastructure. He headed several institutions related to agriculture including Central Cotton Committee and Central Tobacco Committee. He encouraged commercial crops like sugarcane and tobacco and organised agricultural and cattle exhibitions. He is said to have closely worked with T.A. Ramalingam Chettiar for the establishment of the TB sanatorium at Perundurai.

His tenure as the President of the District Board in 1933 could be considered a golden period and under his tenure a number of rural schools were established. He accorded special attention to the roads, bridges and planting of trees. On either side of the road, he saw to that trees were planted and maintained. Historian C.R. Elangovan points out that he planted tamarind trees on either side of the Mettupalayam Road from the city to Narasimhanaickenpalayam, a distance of about 15 km. He passed away in 1948 at the age of 68.

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