How long can LDF govt blame Centre for its failures and get away with it?

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Photo: Manorama

Thiruvananthapuram: The problem with employing the same tactic for any difficult situation is that overuse could make it both stale and predictable. Over time, even if there is more than some truth in it, the argument will not be taken seriously. And since the gambit could be foreseen, it allows opponents to be ready with neutralising counters.

The second Pinarayi Ministry seems fully oblivious of this fundamental 'don't' - the repeated adoption of one tactic - in political warfare. Confront any of its ministers with governance or administrative lapses, and they invariably blame the Centre.

Ask why local bodies are woefully short of funds, the finger will be pointed at the Centre. Ask why Kerala has one of the worst implementations of the drinking water scheme Jal Jeevan Mission, the finger is pointed in the same direction. Ask about the rise in the prices of vegetables and other essential commodities or the empty racks in Supplyco outlets, ditto.

And on Tuesday, when Agriculture Minister P Prasad was asked why even farmers who had suffered in the 2021 deluge, forget farmers whose crops were ravaged by the intense heatwave conditions and the subsequent excess rains this year, had not received compensation, the same thing again. The agriculture minister was responding to an adjournment motion moved by Muslim League MLA Kurukkoli Moideen in the Assembly.

"Why do you think this is happening," Prasad asked about the Rs 145 crore that has still not been distributed to paddy farmers from whom Supplyco has procured paddy. "The Centre has still not given us its share of over Rs 1,000 crore. Why are you people silent about this," he asked the opposition.

Opposition leader VD Satheesan prefaced his counter by saying that no government had ever run up procurement arrears of six to seven months. "Now you say that you have not received Rs 1,000 crore from the Centre. You had said this before and so we had asked our MPs to raise this issue in Parliament two months ago. The reply we got was that Supplyco had not submitted the procurement audit report (a mandatory requirement to get the central funds released). We were told you had not completed the due process necessary to secure central assistance," Satheesan said.

The LDF government had always charged the Centre with trying to fiscally throttle Kerala. Now Satheesan gave an example of how the state cunningly took advantage of the Centre's generosity.

"Everyone should know this," Satheesan said. "The Centre's share for a kilo of rice was Rs 20.40. And Kerala's, Rs 7.80. Together, they would pay a farmer Rs 28.20 per kg. The Centre increased its share by Rs 1.43. The farmer would have got nearly Rs 30 a kg (Rs 29.63) as a result. But you know what the state government did? It reduced Rs 1.43 from its share of Rs 7.80 and brought it down to Rs 6.37. In effect, though the Centre increased its share, a farmer in Kerala received the same amount," Satheesan said.

It was only 10 minutes earlier that the agriculture minister said that he always wanted the benefits of farmers increased. His argument was that he could not do it because of the Centre's anti-federal fiscal ways.

Prasad also said that the government expected more than the traditional relief assistance from the Centre for the losses suffered by farmers in Kerala in the heatwave and subsequent rains between February and June this year.

He said the heatwave from February to May had destroyed 46,587 hectares of agricultural land. The "heavy excess rainfall" that struck soon after decimated 3125 hectares. Around 50,273 farmers have been affected. The minister said that according to preliminary estimates, paddy farmers alone sustained losses of over Rs 155 crore.

In this context, the Opposition leader wanted to know whether the government had conducted a detailed assessment of the crop damage suffered by farmers, drawn up a compendium of the destruction inflicted on the agriculture sector by the extreme weather conditions this year, and officially sought a special package for farmers. "If you have, please inform us too. We can ask our MPs to strongly take up the issue in Parliament," Satheesan said. The minister did not respond.

Similarly, on June 27, minister for local bodies MB Rajesh had rhetorically sought the cooperation of the UDF in its fight against the Centre.

The Opposition leader then said that the government could not expect the Opposition's support in the fight against the Centre if it keeps coming up with far-fetched figures of fiscal deprivation. He said the Rs 57,000-crore loss estimate that the LDF government had bandied about was based on ludicrous notions.

Further, on July 8, it was revealed that Kerala had allocated just Rs 550 crore in its latest budget while the Centre had earmarked nearly Rs 2,000 crore this fiscal as its share for the implementation of the Jal Jeevan Mission. Kerala is supposed to give a 'matching grant'.

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