The Left Front government needs to answer some pertinent questions raised by the Opposition, especially regarding the management of dams during the floods.
Now that the waters are receding, rescue operations are almost over and thousands in makeshift shelters are slowly picking up past threads in rebuilding their lives, it is going to be trial by error for the Left Front government in Kerala. The state will take months to recover from the shock and devastation left behind by the deluge. Though the Pinarayi Vijayan government has come out with flying colours so far in its rescue and rehabilitation operations, the Congress-led Opposition has raised some pertinent questions, especially regarding the management of dams during the floods that need to be answered. The Chief Minister has claimed that dam management was effective and has refused to look into it, at least for now. But the Opposition is persisting with the demand for a judicial probe into the mishandling of the flood situation by the government and has now petitioned the Governor. “The government cannot be intolerant towards criticism and the Opposition will point out lapses on the government’s part continuously,” Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said after meeting the Governor. But rather than what went wrong in the past month or so, it is how the state government handles the recovery work in the months ahead which needs attention. Pinarayi Vijayan has taken a grand stand of building a “New Kerala” and there is no death of rhetoric from all corners; politicians, planners, educationists, thinkers, writers all talk of a Phoenix-like transition of Kerala. All these are only in words, nothing so far on paper. If what went on at the special session of the state Assembly—which met on Thursday to discuss the road map for a “New Kerala”—is of any indication, then all the tall talk will remain in paper only. Except for a few saner voices, it was an eight-hour cacophony of blame game in which both sides excelled. The money spent on convening the session could have been contributed to the relief fund.
The Chief Minister began in right earnest when he emphasised on the four factors in connection with reconstruction. Raising funds for it comes first. Second, what sort of rehabilitation should the state undertake, followed by the task of mobilising raw material for the same. And the fourth is to ensure livelihood for all. “The Assembly has been convened to discuss how New Kerala will be built,” Vijayan said at the outset. Worthy intentions, no doubt, but no one seems to have any clue as to what the blueprint for such a plan should be. Instead, while most of the ruling front MLAs extolled their rescue and rehabilitation efforts in their respective areas and glorified the chief minister, the Opposition MLAs tried their best to expose the lapses on the part of the government, especially in opening the dam shutters in haste. Two CPM members, who had criticised the government during the time of floods, were not allowed to speak. Nothing about the blueprint was discussed, while no one forgot to mention on the need for funds. Money, of course, matters as in every disaster. People of Kerala still remember how tsunami money for coastal Kollam found its way to hilly Idukki in 2004. Only veteran V.S. Achuthanandan said something worth noting: “The uncontrolled interference of nature in the name of development should be reined in. Illegal and unscientific constructions by encroaching forest land, by filling up paddy fields cannot be overlooked any more. Legislations should be strict.” Ironically, all his efforts to stall illegal constructions in the hills of Munnar, which was completely submerged, had been foiled by Vijayan and company in the past. Land mafia continues to thrive under a benevolent CPM leadership in Munnar, a prime tourist attraction in the state. People in the hills know that nothing will change, flood or deluge. Lone voices such as Achuthanandan’s will only fall on deaf ears.
For the time being it looks like there will not be any shortage of funds and materials, irrespective of Central government’s reservations on certain aspects, in building a “New Kerala” as envisioned by the Chief Minister. Again experts point out the lack of a clear road map for such an uphill task and cite the financial baggage which the state was carrying before the deluge struck. It is in this context that the state government, experts point out, should cut its own expenses before anything else. Many feel charity should begin at home, meaning austerity should start with the Chief Minister’s Office itself. Fingers are being pointed to his advisors, many of whom enjoy all the perks with a retinue of staff doing practically nothing. It is time for some of them to go. So is the case of the state administrative reforms commission which was purely set up to keep veteran V.S. Achuthanandan quiet after he was denied the post of Chief Minister, which he was expecting after leading his party to victory in 2016. So far there is no evidence as to whether the commission has submitted any report on how to reform the administration or, if so, what the government has done with it. Another white elephant is the state welfare corporation for forward communities headed by R. Balakrishna Pillai, leader of a two-man party whose interest is mainly in the well being of his son, rather than any community. These are only possible channels to write off public money in the name of governance. Floods have given a great opportunity for Pinarayi Vijayan to cleanse the stables of God’s own country. If he stands for good governance in these times of crisis, it is the right moment for Pinarayi to capitalise on his growing popularity through proper handling of the situation.