It is controversies one after another, typical of what Kerala has been witnessing over the decades: a debate on minor events, provided the High Court doesn't give a ruling favouring the Congress and other Opposition parties in the Sprinklr case regarding the health data of people. This comes when the panchayat elections are round the corner.
That said, comes the next controversy over the Pampa River being cleared of waste from higher places, including the famous temple of Sabarimala. The State owned company, Kerala Clays and Ceramics Products which had an agreement with the government to lead the waste clearance, has withdrawn from the work. This is on the ground that since it cannot sell its river soil, as per the forest department's instructions, it feels there is no point in wasting money on a dream.
It was decided to cleanse the river not out of any regard or respect for it, but because of the danger of having a flood like that of 2018 whiçh cost the State dear, and earned the Government lots of money and some tremendous publicity without any cost, though lives were lost and the people suffered.
But the cleansing of the river didn't happen. That delay, it is alleged, led to a trip to the place by the Chief Secretary and the Kerala Police head, just a day before the former’s retirement. They decided to make that two-year-old plan an urgent work. The trip was undertaken in a helicopter purchased for emergency purposes and whose purchase has been embroiled in controversy. It is another matter that the decision was made on the last day of the Chief Secretary's job, making it look all the more a scandalous trip. This has been in the eye of a storm raised by the government's opponents with all sorts of allegations.
To make matters worse, Forest Minister and CPI leader K Raju opposed the move of the Government handing over the cleansing to the National Disaster Management and made it clear that the sand was part of forest property. When the Congress leader Ramesh Chennitala alleged foul play, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan went out to defend the deal, arguing that it was all done on the basis of rules under disaster management.
To make matters worse, the National Green Tribunal sought an explanation from the State Government. The Pathanamthita District Collector earlier gave an order that the material got by clearing the river, should be kept safe till a pass from the Forest Minister's office was obtained. The Chief Secretary ordered to override it, kicking up a row which does not seem to have an ending in the near future and like all other controversial issues will soon be forgotten and would be pushed to be a point of discussion locally during the Panchayat elections.
Sadly enough, a serious matter of cleansing the rivers in a flood-prone State has never ever been given priority.
In all this controversy, the stern stand of the Forest Department needs to be applauded. It has stuck to the stand that the sand collected from the river is the property of the department and cannot be given to all and sundry. Moreover, a panel has been set up to look into the matter. We will have to wait to see if there was any foul play in the former Chief Secretary’s last-hour rushing to the place.
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.