Kerala floods: CM seeks special package from Centre

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala today sought a Rs 2,600 crore special package from the Centre even as the state struggled to find its feet after the devastating deluge that left 223 dead in a fortnight and forced over 10 lakh people out of their homes.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan chaired a meeting of the state cabinet, which decided to seek a special package from the Centre under the centrally sponsored schemes, including the latter’s flagship rural employment programme MNREGS.

Vijayan said a special session of the state assembly has been convened on 30 August to discuss the situation arising from the calamitous floods, the worst in a century.

The Chief Minister had earlier said the state had suffered damages of about Rs 20,000 crore. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and two other union ministers have collectively announced interim assistance of Rs 680 crore for the state so far.

Vijayan said Kerala would also ask the Centre to hike the limit of loan it can secure from the open market for the massive rebuilding exercise after 13 of the state’s 14 districts were savaged by floods, traumatising people and devastating its infrastructure.

Under the present arrangement, Kerala can obtain three per cent of its gross state domestic product (GSDP) as loans and wants it to be raised to 4.5 per cent so the state can mobilise an additional Rs 10,500 crore from the open market, he said.

As the massive humanitarian tragedy unfolded in the picturesque state, relief poured in. Governments of other states, corporate entities and individuals, including small children, have loosened their purse strings.

Vijayan said the United Arab Emirates has promised an assistance of USD 100 million (About Rs 700 crore) for the state’s reconstruction.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, called up Prime Minister Modi and made the offer for assistance, Vijayan said.

The state-level bankers committee has also decided to declare a moratorium on repayment of agricultural loan for a year.

Over 10.78 lakh people, including 2.12 lakh women and 1 lakh children below 12 years of age, are taking shelter in as many as 3,200 relief camps a fortnight after a murderous monsoon rampaged through the state in its second spell that began on 8 August.

Though rains have eased over the last two days, vast swathes of land remain under a seemingly endless sheet of water in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Kollam districts.

Though most of those marooned have been evacuated, the state government and defence forces said rescue efforts will continue till the last person was brought to safety.

Over 1.63 lakh people were rescued in the last five days alone. As the state drowned in unprecedented misery, the Onam festival that brings together people of all religious faiths, castes and creed in celebration of a good harvest, too has been washed away, with the government and other entities cancelling the events scheduled for 25 August.

The money collected for the celebrations will now be spent on flood relief. The Muslim festival of Bakrid tomorrow will also be low key.

Road and rail services have resumed in most parts of the state but clearing houses of the debris washed up by surging flood water is a daunting task.

Vijayan said a massive action plan is being put in place for that. The state government, he said, is also preparing a comprehensive health action programme to prevent outbreak of water-borne diseases.