CM promises lasting solution for coast, opposition asks why nothing was done last five years

CM promises lasting solution for coast, opposition asks why nothing was done last five years
(L) Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, (R) opposition leader V D Satheesan during the Kerala Assembly Session.

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday told the Assembly that within the next five years a lasting solution would be found for the recurring woes of the entire Kerala coast. In response, opposition leader V D Satheesan asked why during the last five years his government could not spend even Rs 12 of the Rs 12,000 crore projects it had announced for the coast.

This tit-for-tat between the Chief Minister and the opposition leader came during an adjournment motion moved by Congress legislator P C Vishnunath, the first of the 15th Kerala Assembly, on the widespread destruction along the coast caused by consecutive cyclones. The opposition staged a walk out after Speaker M B Rajesh, on the basis of explanations given by the chief minister, fisheries minister Saji Cherian and power minister K Krishnakutty (who stood in for water resources minister Roshy Augustine), refused permission for the motion to suspend proceedings to discuss the coastal issue.

Vishnunath said that traditional coastal protection methods would not suffice anymore. "The old measures like the construction of sea walls and groynes (pulimuttu) can no longer solve the problem. We need more scientific studies and solutions based on that," Vishnunath said.

He alleged that protection models that had failed in one part of the coast were now being experimented in other areas along the coast. He said the geotube wall attempted in Chellanam was not a success. "Now, geotubes are being used along the Shanghumughom coast (in Thiruvananthpauram)," Vishnunath said. Geotubes are sand-filled sacks made of natural or synthetic fibres.

That geotubes would be laid off the shore in Shanghumughom was announced by fisheries minister Saji Cherian in the House on Tuesday. However, the chief minister conceded that there were two opinions about the efficacy of geotubes. "The government has still not taken a decision on the issue," the chief minister said. Nonetheless, it was not clear whether geotubes would still be used in Shanghumughom.

Vishnunath also felt that mass vaccination should be done in Chellanam. He said the coastal folk in Chellanam village were suffering the brunt of both sea erosion and COVID-19. "The test positivity rate in Chellanam is more than 60 percent. They fear shifting to the refugee camps," Vishnunath said. He said mass vaccination was a way out.

Neither the chief minister nor the minister gave any assurance on the mass vaccination proposal. The chief minister, however, said three kinds of refugee camps have been opened for coastal folks across the state. One will be for Covid positive people. Another would be for those in quarantine. And the third is for those not affected by COVID-19.

The opposition leader, while welcoming the chief minister's promise to find a lasting solution for coastal worries, wanted to know what the last Pinarayi Vijayan government had been doing. "What did you do in the last five years? Where have you done the annual maintenance? You had sanctioned Rs 12,000 crore in the last five years but have you done a detailed project report on any of these projects," he said and added: "Hope this will not be the case in the next five years."

He also spoke about the shabby manner in which coastal protection works were carried out under the last government. "The project to lay geotubes along the Chellanam coast was handed over to a road contractor," Satheesan said.

Further, the opposition leader alleged that absence of timely decisions had cost the coastal folk dear. "If you had taken a decision on removing sand from the Vizhinjam port area way back in 2019, we would not have lost lives in Vizhinjam last week," Satheesan said. "The problem of sand accumulation in the Vizhinjam project area was brought to the government's attention in 2019. You held meetings but were still undecided on who will remove the sand; the Adani group or the Harbour Engineering Department," Satheesan said.

Vishnunath also flagged problems about forecasting. "Fishermen who lost their lives last week had gone out to sea only because the Disaster Management Authority had said it was safe to venture out," he said.

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