Kerala limps back to normalcy; row over foreign help brews

Thiruvananthapuram: As flood waters receded in Kerala, rescue operations were halted by the Navy, and people gradually began returning to their homes, many of them barely liveable, even as a political row brewed over accepting foreign aid.

The state’s LDF government said such aid should be accepted even as the Centre made it clear it won’t accept cash donation from foreign countries as per a long-standing policy.

As the offer of USD 100 million (Rs 700 crore) aid by the United Arab Emirates appeared stuck, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government would approach Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if needed, to get the aid cleared.

The state government also drew flak from the Opposition, which alleged it was a man-made disaster as the people were not warned in advance about the opening of dam shutters before the worst rains in nearly a century submerged half the state.

As it began the recovery efforts, the state also saw its traditional amity in full swing, with a mosque opening its portals to distressed Hindus, and Muslims cleaning temples – all of which bore the brunt of the murderous monsoon over the last fortnight.

But tales of distress and despair continued to pour in from different parts as many found their homes filled with huge mounds of mud and dirt left by the receding flood waters.

A 68-year-old man committed suicide at his home as he was unable to get over the shock of what was left of his dwelling at Kothad in Ernakulam district, close on the heels of a teenaged boy from Kozhikode taking his life after his certificates were destroyed in the floods.

Officials said flight operations from flood-hit Kochi international airport, which has remained closed for more than a week, will resume from 29 August, instead of 26 August, as it would require more time to mobilise the workforce, most of whom had been affected by the floods.

With the rescue operations in the affected areas nearing a close, the government turned its attention to rehabilitating people, days after the monsoon fury ravaged the state claiming 231 lives and forcing more than 14.50 lakh out of their homes.

Pinarayi Vijayan

Chief Minister Vijayan said 13.43 lakh people were still in 3,314 relief camps. The Navy called off its 14-day-long rescue operations, saying there were no more requests for evacuation.

The day also saw a political row breaking out with the opposition Congress-led UDF and the BJP blaming the state government for the “man-made disaster,” a charge Vijayan denied.

Bakrid, the festival of sacrifice, was marked by special prayers at mosques in Kerala for those who lost their lives in the floods and those who continue to suffer due to the unprecedented deluge.

In Tamilnadu too, prayers were offered for the well-being of those affected by the floods in the neighbouring state.

Referring to reports that the Centre was unlikely to accept foreign funds for Kerala, Vijayan said there were no obstacles for accepting foreign funds as such.

“Donations from other countries are acceptable. Will approach PM if required,” he told reporters here. The state government wanted to sort out the issue by holding discussions at the official level, but, if necessary, would seek the Prime Minister’s intervention, he added.

Congress in the state termed disappointing reports that the Centre was unlikely to accept foreign donations made in cash.

Vijayan said the floods and landslides were due to unseasonal heavy rains the state experienced from 8 August and not because of the opening of dam shutters, as alleged by the opposition.

The Chief Minister said the state had received 164 per cent more rains during this monsoon season than the normal.

“It is true that government was able to fruitfully manage the dams and this is why we were able to check the quantum of damage,” he said.

Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala demanded a judicial probe into the circumstances that led to release of water from 40-odd dams at a time.

The Chief Minister said his government will honour the defence personnel who took part in the rescue operations on 26 August, and also thanked the Indian cricket team captain Virat Kholi for remembering the flood victims.

Vijayan said the government would not shut its eyes to the miseries of the people and will stand together with them and help in rebuilding their lives.

The state has estimated its loss in the deluge at Rs 20,000 crore and wants an interim assistance of Rs 2,600 crore from the Centre.

The Centre yesterday released Rs 600 crore, including the Rs 500 crore announced by the Prime Minister.