Vijayan’s 700 crore lie and whether Kerala floods are a ‘man-made disaster’

Two Supreme Court judges, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice KM Joseph, both from Kerala, made significant donations towards flood relief operations on Sunday, earning them the nation’s approval. They could now have the nation’s gratitude if they choose to initiate investigations into the role of state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his government in this allegedly ‘man-made disaster’.

One issue is rather straight-forward. Vijayan went public in declaring that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would make a Rs 700 crore donation towards flood relief fund. Vijayan said that Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, made the Rs 700 crore assistance offer when he spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone.

Vijayan’s claim has now turned out to be a lie. UAE ambassador to India, Ahmed Al Banna has categorically stated that no such promise of Rs 700 crores aid has been made by his government. As Al Banna said, “All that has happened is a national emergency committee has been formed…for our friendly people and friends in Kerala.” Albanna further said that his UAE government understands “the financial aid rules in India”.

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The honourable judges could haul Vijayan on multiple counts: (a) Mr CM, how and why did you make such a false claim; (b) Your party state chief, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, has blamed the Modi government for refusing this aid as an “act of vengeance” and that you’ve chosen not to contradict it, why you must not be perceived as a “partner in crime”; (c) what do we make of your instructions to the state police to stop “fake news” when you yourself have gone ahead with this terrible lie of Rs 700 crore UAE “fictitious” aid news.

The political connotation is obvious: It projects Modi government as petty and stingy when assertions are made that NDA’s Rs 600 crore aid has now been topped by UAE’s 700 crores and that it’s putting politics over people. Projecting Modi as the enemy of Kerala could only yield electoral dividends for the ruling Vijayan party and possibly for “mahagathbandhan.”

The second issue is already under the Supreme Court’s domain. The honourable judges only need to advance its scope and bring Vijayan and his state government under its scrutiny and ask whether the Kerala floods could’ve been avoided.

An Idukki-resident Russel Joy has filed a petition that the Mullaperiyar dam and its overflow which caused utmost damage is a responsibility between two states, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and that both indulge in passing the buck.

On Thursday, the Kerala government made a startling disclosure to the three-member Supreme Court bench. It blamed Tamil Nadu for Kerala floods! The Kerala government claimed in Supreme Court that despite its repeated pleas for the controlled release of water, Tamil Nadu “suddenly discharged” Mullaperiyar reservoir by “opening all the 13 shutters to Idukki downstream.”

“The sudden releases from the Mullaperiyar dam forced us (Kerala) to release more water from the Idukki reservoir,” Kerala submitted. (The three-member bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra would next hear the case on August 24).

A few other emerging facts make it imperative for Supreme Court to extend its brief and investigate the role of Kerala state governments and whether the floods were a ‘man-made disaster’. It has now been disclosed that Vijayan’s government in Kerala, in one go, released the shutters of state’s 40-odd dams. They didn’t opt for a gradual release of waters and there was a little prior warning to its unsuspecting, unfortunate citizens, as the opposition alleged. Experts too believe the waters should have been discharged earlier from the bulging Idukki, Cheruthoni and Edamalayar dams. Water in these dams was already full by July- end but the shutters were only opened in mid-August.

Ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), claimed this week that floods and landslides in Kerala are a man-made disaster. As per Ashok Keshari, engineer professor of Delhi’s IIT, Kerala state “released water from the dams only once the danger levels were reached”.

The nation has stood as one in support of Kerala reeling under this massive tragedy. Over 350 people have died so far, houses and farms have been washed away, infrastructure wiped out, and Vijayan has worked out a figure of Rs 20,000 crore aid on his calculator.

But what if this was a man-made disaster? The investigating authorities need to yank out the truth in open. Till accountability is fixed, another disaster, massive loss of innocent lives and strain on your and mine tax money is never too far. Only those who celebrate floods are sharks who syphon off free funds and donations. They must be identified and called out.

Author of “How United States Shot Humanity”, Senior Journalist, TV Presenter

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