Nature's fury: Assembly expresses grief, disperses to fight another day

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Assembly briefly met on Wednesday to express solidarity with the families that had lost lives and property in the havoc caused by incessant and widespread rains since October 11.

Given the threat of heavy rains in the coming days, and the need for ministers and legislators to be on the ground to coordinate relief activities, the Assembly has also decided to do away with the scheduled sittings on October 21 and 22.

Many MLAs, including Opposition Leader V D Satheesan, did not attend the sitting on Wednesday as they were busy in their constituencies. It was Thrippunithura MLA K Babu who spoke on behalf of the Opposition Leader.

There was speculation that discordant notes would be heard in the House but it was evident the Opposition did not want to use a solemn occasion for acrimonious debate. Perhaps anticipating criticism, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said this was a time to leave aside differences and work together to bring help and solace to the disaster-affected families.

Babu, who was the only other speaker of the day, promised full support to the government. Nonetheless, he raised some issues, wanting the government to consider them seriously.

"Though such calamities are happening for the fourth consecutive year, we have not been able to send out warnings in disaster-prone areas, " Babu said. "Was there any failure in giving proper warning? If so, what is the solution? The government should assess the efficiency of the existing system," Babu said.

Babu's was a controlled critique of the government's response to the disaster but a day ago, on October 19, the Opposition Leader had come out with stinging criticism of the government. He said the government had not taken preventive measures even after receiving sufficient warnings about the intensity of the rains. He termed the State Disaster Management Authority a "disaster". He also wanted the government to initiate urgent measures to control illegal quarrying in Kerala; the Pinarayi ministry has always been accused of being pro-mining.

Even a Left fellow traveller like Cherian Philip had subtly targeted the Chief Minister. In a Facebook post, he asked what happened to the Netherlands Model of flood control, a clear reference to Pinarayi's visit to the country in 2019 and his public admiration for the 'Room for the River' project he witnessed at Nordwood in the Netherlands.

However, revenue minister K Rajan had shifted the blame to the Centre. On October 19, he said the IMD had provided "inaccurate information". Kottayam, which IMD had put in the safe 'green' category, turned out to be the worst affected.

The Opposition seems in no mood to let the government off the hook. It has once again questioned the necessity of the Rs-65,000-crore Silver Line project. Fireworks can be expected when the House reconvenes on October 25.

The Chief Minister told the House today that 39 had died, and six were still missing, in the landslides and floods set off by the extremely heavy rainfall. He said 3851 families were shifted to 304 relief camps opened in the affected areas. He said 217 houses were fully destroyed and 1393 were partially damaged.

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