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Kerala floods are over but the corruption begins

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Every challenge is an opportunity. Every destruction is an opportunity to build better than what was existed. People of Kerala and especially its govt. have to have this in their mind as they are looking for a mammoth task ahead.

As per the last update given by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a special session of the Kerala assembly convened on 30th Aug 2018, the death toll in the south-west monsoon in Kerala, from May to August, is 483 and 14 people are missing. 14,50,707 people were housed in relief camps.

As per an initial assessment report from the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (Assocham) the damage Kerala faced was worth Rs 15,000-20,000 crore. Another government estimate indicates that approximately one lakh buildings including houses are damaged. And a staggering 10,000 kms of roads, which was later reported to be 80,000 kms, and hundreds of bridges have been washed away. Crops in millions of hectares of land have been lost.

The destruction of Kerala in the unprecedented flood of Aug 2018 was so widely spread across the state that it provided the state a never before opportunity to reset its housing and urban planning and build a better, planned and futuristic Kerala.

But if the govt. actions post the Dam Disaster was any indication to go by then it certainly raises doubt in the minds of flood ravaged people that govt. of Kerala is so dearly going to miss this opportunity.

As the flood fury was converted to a full-fledged Dam Disaster by the dam mismanagement by the govt. of Kerala and their lack of timely warning to the people, much the same way the post disaster phase also seems to be gradually heading towards a mess.

While damage of govt ineptness in the rescue in first phase was to a great extent minimized by the now renowned swiftness and wholehearted participation of the common man barring cast, creed, class and religion, the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase is solely on the shoulders of govt. And that is why it is more worrying.

First of all the Pinarayi Vijayan govt.’s priorities in this are increasingly seem to be misplaced. Instead of devising a fool proof strategy and putting forward a robust and futuristic plan on rebuilding Kerala or explaining to the people on how govt is planning to achieve this, what people got to see instead was a govt. on overdrive for fund raising alone. This was while the funds were flowing in voluntarily from across the continents thanks to the strong NRK community spread across the globe. And when the govt mixes it with their narrow minded political games then it becomes a perfect recipe for failure.

This was evident from the 700 Cr UAE aid drama Pinarayi Vijayan played in the initial days of Dam tragedy. Even when UAE embassy in India and central govt themselves clarified that there was no such offer or such a figure, Pinarayi Vijayan continued to pour more and more oil into the controversy only to enable its party cadres to make a huge noise in the state, may be to cover up its role in the disaster by a poor dam management. It was evident that Pinarayi and his advisors had plucked out the figure 700 Cr from thin air only to show the initial central aid of 600 Cr in a poor light in comparison. Such was the narrow mindedness the ruling dispensation showed in the very first days after the disaster.

Other than rhetoric and sloganeering of the govt on rebuilding a new Kerala there seems to be a total lack of interest from the ministry. It was a time when the state was reeling under the destruction and when a strong leadership is needed in decision making and leading the rehabilitation and reconstruction. It was at this crucial time that CM of the state Mr.Pinarayi Vijayan has left for US within a fortnight of the tragedy. When it is given to understand that he has gone for a treatment there, nobody in Kerala knows what his illness is. The Communist Party has kept it a watertight secret, for the reason known only to them.

Not only CM is going to be away indefinitely at this decisive hours, the govt has also decided to send its ministers to foreign trips to raise funds too. While the funds are flowing in voluntarily, and in the few days within the disaster CMDRF (Chief Ministers Disaster Relief Fund) has received more than 1000 Crs from donation, the absence of CM and ministers are going to cripple the coordination of rehabilitation and recovery process. Even the initial help of 10,000 rupees offered by govt hasn’t been distributed effectively yet.

While govt has changed the tone of their request for employees to donate their one month salary to the relief fund to a threatening one, the proposed ministerial entourages to the foreign countries are going to be a waste of precious state resources in money, time and manpower.

Another wrong signal on where the govt is heading is in the in-fighting within the party which has reared its ugly face at this crucial time. The govt has setup a ministerial subcommittee for the decision making and disbursement of the compensation to the affected people. But to the surprise of the people of Kerala, the finance minister of the state didn’t find a place in such an important finance related body. When a close knit coordination between different arms of the govt is the need of the hour such a self damaging in-fighting is casting its shadows on the future of the project ‘Re-building Kerala’.

Govt’s decision to entrust the consultancy of rebuilding Kerala to a Netherlands based firm called KPMG has already drawn criticism from the opposition parties as the firm reportedly has a very bad reputation internationally. It is reported that the firm is under investigation for its dubious transactions in various countries including US, UK and South Africa. Hence in this front also govt’s intentions are suspicious.

There is already a controversy irrupted over the method govt has proposed for assessing the damage to properties including homes and compensations accordingly.

Govt is not ready to form a separate fund for the fair distribution of the huge volume of money it is planning to amass as relief fund. There were allegations earlier about the CMDRF fund being diverted for purposes other than relief. Examples were the controversy on diverting the fund which had raised for Ockhi cyclone relief being diverted for CMs helicopter travel expenses. Another instance of misuse was giving away a good sum of money from the relief fund to a deceased politician’s family. Kerala high court has already sounded alarm about the fair utilization of the relief funds as govt was unwilling to create a separate fund for it .

Epidemic outbreak might cause a serious challenge to a leader-less govt. There is already an alarmingly increasing number of rat-fever related deaths reporting from flood devastated areas across the state. It is increasing by each passing day. As seen in the case of opening the dams en-mass when govt repeatedly told people that nothing to worry even hours before opening the dams, much the same way govt is downplaying the health hazard Kerala heading towards.

Govt also send out a very negative signal on how their ‘rebuilding Kerala’ is going to take shape when it denied the MLAs of the most affected places like Ranni, Chengannur, Pathanamthitta etc. an opportunity to speak in the specially convened session of assembly on 30th Aug. Even though they are the ruling party MLAs their denial is attributed to their being vocal in asking for handing over the rescue to military at the peak of disaster, which govt and party categorically rejected, after seeing themselves the inadequacy of state govt’s rescue efforts in their own constituencies.

Other than the suspicious mad rush for fund raising, there seems to be no plan the govt is having in devising a mechanism to prepare the state for a possible repeat of the same disaster in the future. The govt is totally silent on the details of such an equally important post disaster activity. To make the situation even worst the insensitive responses bordering nonsense post the dam disaster from some ministers are adding to the disgust and fears of people. The state electricity minister MM Mani under whose ministry the responsibility of dam management comes is the front runner in that. The minister had gleefully boasted hours before opening the dams without adequate notice that he is proud that under his ministership the dams are becoming full. Later after the disaster was struck he told the media that it is not a big deal if some (400 plus!) people are died in floods which was arguably created by the dam mis-management of his own dept and the govt.

When govt’s attention is fully converged in to fundraising alone, all the other aspects of post disaster relief, recovery, rehabilitation and rebuilding are over looked. It is an increasing sense of feeling among the people that the disaster is started to be treated as a milching cow by the govt.

Kerala is a worried lot. Only the flood has passed but not the fears. As the govt seems to be clueless and heading with misplaced priorities it seems that only God can save it’s own country and its people.

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