Pinarayi terms as 'improper' Centre's decision to thwart Veena George's travel to Kuwait

Pinarayi Vijayan pays homage to people killed in Kuwait fire at Kochi airport. Photo: Special arrangement

Thiruvananthapuram: Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday expressed deep resentment at the Centre's decision to refuse health minister Veena Vijayan clearance to travel to Kuwait. Speaking at the inaugural of the Loka Kerala Sabha in Thiruvananthapuram, the Chief Minister said that the health minister who reached the Nedumbassery airport on June 13 was not able to go further.

"Before she could take the flight, we were informed that she had been denied clearance. This is not the time to get into the propriety of the Centre's action. I will leave that for another time," the CM said.  "But I will just say this. We heard that someone was asking why we wanted to go when they had made all the arrangements and was doing all that was necessary," he said, in a thinly veiled reference to the Centre.

Foreign visits of chief ministers and state ministers require the sanction of the Ministry of External Affairs. Such travel requests are passed through the Prime Minister's Office. 

On June 13, health minister Veena George and National Health Mission director Jeevan Babu had waited in the airport for nearly six hours after check-in and were told by around 9 p.m. that they could not fly. It was a special cabinet meeting held in the wake of the fire tragedy in Kuwait's Mangaf City that decided to send the health minister as Kerala's representative to Kuwait. The minister, after her clearance was denied, had said that she wanted to be with the injured, understand their specific problems and convey these to the Centre.

The Chief Minister said it was part of an accepted tradition to be with close ones and comfort them in times of need. "When the health minister herself reaches there, she can understand the problems the injured are facing, listen to the Malayali diaspora and then do the needful. It is what Kerala expects," the CM said. And in a voice heavy with indignation, he said: "What can we do? They simply rejected clearance. The only thing we could do was to receive the lifeless bodies that arrived in the airport."

He said 27 bodies had reached Kerala today. "Of this seven belonged to families in Tamil Nadu men, and one to Karnataka," he said. The CM said that there were heart-rending moments at the airport. "I don't think I can ever get over the cry of a father. He had once worked in Kuwait and, after he retired, took his son there. And now what he got back was his child's dead body,"  the CM said.

Pinarayi hoped that the Kuwait government would take the necessary steps to get to the root of the tragedy and fix accountability. "If anyone is found responsible, steps should be taken to secure compensation from them for the bereaved families. The Centre should take steps to expedite the follow-up steps of the Kuwait government," the CM said.

He said that both the Centre and state should function as one in this instance. "It is true that a state cannot do anything in a foreign country. Such things come within the remit of the Central government. Still, it should not be forgotten that most of the Indians who live in the Gulf are from Kerala. It is we who can better understand their troubles and communicate them to the Centre. To presume such a coordination was unnecessary in a situation like this is improper," Pinarayi said. Nonetheless, he offered unconditional support to the Centre in the issue.

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