UDF targets Kerala govt over Muthalapozhi issue; stages walkout in Assembly

Opposition Congress-led UDF on Monday criticised the Left government in Kerala over recurring boat capsizes and deaths in nearby Muthalapozhi harbour and staged a walkout in the Assembly, accusing them of failing to work out a permanent solution to address the issue.
Kerala Assembly
Kerala Assembly

Thiruvananthapuram | Opposition Congress-led UDF on Monday criticised the Left government in Kerala over recurring boat capsizes and deaths in nearby Muthalapozhi harbour and staged a walkout in the Assembly, accusing them of failing to work out a permanent solution to address the issue.

Over 70 persons were reportedly killed and a large number of boats capsized in Muthalapozhi, a coastal hamlet where a river and a lake merge with the Arabian Sea, and its surrounding areas in recent years.

While the UDF members alleged that the government had failed to implement either short-term or long-term programmes to ensure safety of the fishermen and reduce accidents in the region, the government claimed it has taken all "humanly possible steps" to address the issue.

During zero hour, Fisheries Minister Saji Cheriyan explained various steps initiated by the government so far in the coastal hamlet and made it clear that there was no need for any discussion in the House.

As Speaker A N Shamseer refused to leave the opposition notice for the adjournment motion considering the minister's argument, agitated UDF members announced a walkout in the House as a mark of protest.

During his speech, Cheriyan admitted that recurring accidents and deaths in Muthalapozhi were painful and disturbing and assured the House that a permanent solution would be found within the next one and a half years.

He said it was not a political issue, and a joint initiative of the state and Union governments and the cooperation of the ruling and opposition parties was necessary to resolve it.

The minister said the formation of sand bars, high tides and venturing into the sea by fishermen ignoring weather warnings were among the reasons for the recurring accidents in the region.

Rejecting the opposition criticism, Cheriyan said dredging activities were progressing, and Adani Ports, entrusted with the task, had removed 80 per cent of tetrapod debris and stones from the harbour mouth.

He also cited inclement weather and strong waves as obstacles to completing the task.

He further said the government is now mulling whether to extend the contract for dredging or to carry out the task on its own.

Cheriyan also said a proposal for a project worth Rs 164 crore has been submitted to the Centre to find out a permanent solution to the issues in Muthalapozhi, which has already received an in-principle nod from the Union government.

If the tender procedures can be floated within two months, the work can be completed within one and a half years, finding a permanent solution to the issues faced by the fishing hamlet.

However, Congress legislator M Vincent, who sought notice for an adjournment motion over the issue, rejected the minister's claims and accused the government of merely convening meetings and conducting studies without taking any concrete action.

He said fishermen were forced to go to sea despite weather warnings because they wanted to earn for their families.

Criticising the government over the issue, Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan alleged the authorities were putting the lives of hapless fishermen in the hands of destiny by doing nothing.

Quoting figures, he said 73 deaths and 120 boat accidents had been reported in Muthalappozhi in the last 8-9 years.

Over 700 people suffered injuries, hundreds of houses were damaged and lakhs of rupees worth of equipment, including boats, were destroyed in the hamlet, he said.

Though Adani group was entrusted with the task of dredging and removing soil from the harbour mouth, they completely failed at it, he alleged.

The depth can be increased only if rocks lying in the sea are removed, he said, and asked why the government gave relaxation to the corporate group even if they had failed in dredging.

The LoP also accused the government of being hand-in-glove with Adani Ports in the matter despite its deadline violations.

As the government was reluctant to discuss the Muthalapozhi issue in the House, the UDF members staged a walkout later.

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