Kerala clean-up drive in full swing; row over foreign aid continues

Thiruvananthapuram: With rescue operations in rain-ravaged Kerala nearly over, the focus is now on a massive clean-up drive, even as the row over accepting foreign aid for relief work saw the Congress and Left attacking the Centre.

More than 50,000 volunteers have taken up the task of cleaning houses and public places filled with mud deposits and debris dumped by the floodwaters in the rain fury.

A control room has been set up here to coordinate the cleaning process across the state, official sources said yesterday, adding civic bodies have been entrusted with the task of managing the work.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan undertook a tour of relief camps spread across four districts and assured people all help for their rehabilitation and repair of houses damaged in the rain fury that has claimed 231 lives since 8 August.

At least 10.10 lakh people are still lodged in camps. The aid row hogged attention for the second day yesterday as Congress, CPI-M and CPI trained its guns on the Centre asking it to remove obstacles in accepting foreign aid for the rain-ravaged state, including Rs 700 crore offered by the UAE, even as government justified the stand.

The European Union yesterday announced an assistance of Euro 190,000 (Rs 1.53 crore) in aid funding to the Indian Red Cross Society for providing immediate relief to the flood-hit areas.

Union minister K J Alphons, who earlier justified the government’s stand, requested the Centre to make a “one-time exception” to its 14-year policy of not accepting foreign aid in the face of natural calamities for Kerala.

As the row over foreign aid for the flood-ravaged state escalated, Alphons earlier said the NDA government had “inherited” the policy of not accepting foreign funds for natural calamities from the previous UPA government.

Joining the issue, CPI(M) Kerala state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said Centre should make changes in the convention to get Kerala assistance from foreign countries.

AICC general secretary and former chief minister Oommen Chandy has shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to modify rules, if any, to facilitate foreign funding for rebuilding the flood-ravaged state.

CPI national general secretary Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy accused the Centre of “standing on false prestige” on the issue of foreign aid at times of natural disasters.

Talking to reporters here tonight, Vijayan said the state would draw up a detailed rehabilitation package for repairing and constructing homes destroyed in the deluge.

To a question on the acceptance of foreign aid and the Centre’s stand on the issue, Vijayan said “more clarity has to come. It has not come so far.”

The government will take up with banks the possibility of extending interest free loans of upto Rs one lakh to people whose houses had been damaged in the rains and floods.

Over 60,000 houses and 30,000 wells have been cleaned, he said. A bleak, uncertain future stares the people in the relief camps in the state. “Everything is lost. We are ruined,” said an elderly woman, fighting back her tears.

Many houses are still under water, and the ones which are not have broken pots and pans strewn everywhere with a multitude of problems plaguing them.

The government yesterday assured the displaced people, whose houses were damaged, that urgent steps would be taken to repair their homes and rehabilitate them.

Special arrangements would be made to provide temporary shelters for people, whose houses were completely destroyed, till their homes become ready for accommodation.

Authorities also decided to handover kits containing 31 articles, including food grains, rice, sugar and dal to relief camp inmates.

Clothes would be given to children and women returning homes from relief camps. Vijayan took a helicopter ride to reach some relief camps in worst-hit Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur and Ernakulam districts to get a first-hand knowledge of the sufferings of the people in relief camps.

The inmates, especially women, who had lost their homes and belongings in the worst-floods in the last 100 years, gathered in huge numbers, some with their children in arms, to narrate their woes to the Chief Minister.

As floodwaters receded, carcasses of animals, floating in water bodies and other places were seen, posing serious health threat.

Forest authorities said landslips and heavy rains did not have any major impact on the wildlife including elephants, tigers and leopards.

Meanwhile, opposition Congress-led UDF continued its tirade against the state government over opening of shutters of dams without warning local people living downstream.

Ramesh Chennithala, opposition leader, reiterated his demand for a judicial probe, while state electricity minister M M Mani said there was no lapse on the government’s part and all guidelines had been followed.

Vijayan said, “This is not the time for dispute. The government’s focus now is to solve the problems being faced by the people and so it seeks the unity and cooperation of all.”

The state has suffered an estimated loss of Rs 20,000 crore (as per a preliminary estimate) and had sought an interim assistance of Rs 2,600 crore from the Centre, besides a special package of a similar amount under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.