NEW DELHI: Congress members today staged a walk-out from the Lok Sabha alleging discrimination in providing central assistance to states hit by cyclone Ockhi, as the government refuted the charges asserting that all possible help has been extended to the affected people.
Responding to a short duration discussion on Ockhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard were continuing efforts to trace missing fishermen and the government was providing financial and other assistance to the affected states.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge asked why only four teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were sent to Kerala and three teams to Tamil Nadu, while seven teams of the force were deployed in Gujarat which was not affected.
He accused the government of discrimination in providing help to states hit by Ockhi and said though the impact of the cyclone was severe in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the central assistance to these two states was inadequate.
"Seven teams of NDRF were deployed in Gujarat when the impact of Ockhi in the state was not that severe. There should not be any discrimination in assistance. There must be an inquiry into it," said Kharge.
The Home Minister rejected the demand for an inquiry into the deployment of the NDRF teams and rejected the charges of bias, saying deployment of NDRF teams depended on requisition made by the state governments.
"There was no discrimination at all in extending assistance to any states. We are providing all possible help to all the cyclone-hit states," Singh said.
Not satisfied with response of Singh, the Congress staged a walk-out from the House.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar accused the Congress of indulging in politics on a serious issue like natural disaster and said the government helped every affected person.
In his intervention, Singh said cyclone Ockhi had caused large scale devastation in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Lakshadweep and Maharastra but added that government could not declare it as a national calamity due to the laid-down protocol. He said government is treating it as a disaster of severe nature.
Singh said 18 people were killed in Tamil Nadu and 74 in Kerala in the cyclone which he said is a "rare" one to hit the coastal states in the last 125 years.
The Home Minister said rescue operations by the Navy and Coast Guard were on to trace 275 missing fishermen in Tamil Nadu and 215 in Kerala.
He also rejected the criticism that the meteorological department could not issue a warning on time.
Singh said a total of 2,000 people lost their lives in natural calamities in the country in the current year.
The Home Minister said Tamil Nadu was given a central assistance of Rs 280 crore and Kerala was allocated Rs 76 crore, adding that further allocation will be made after central teams visit the two states.
Singh said a total of 18 ships of Navy and Coast Guard are currently searching for missing fishermen.
His response came after members, cutting across party lines, sought stronger coordination between various agencies to deal with cyclones and other natural disasters, with some of them alleging that the advance warning for cyclone Ockhi was given to Kerala very late.
Congress and Left members, especially from Kerala which bore the brunt, sought a probe into the alleged mismanagement, lack of coordination and other aspects of the disaster while also narrating the ordeal of death and destruction they had witnessed when the cyclone had hit the state.
They also demanded that the devastation caused by Ockhi should be declared a national calamity.
While Congress leader K C Venugopal sought a timely and comprehensive relief package for Kerala, with P Karunakaran (CPI-M) saying a package of Rs 7348 crore should be given. His demand for declaring cyclone Ockhi a national calamity was supported by several members like N K Premchandran (RSP), Jose K Mani (KCP) and P R Sundaram (AIADMK).
B Mahtab (BJD) said natural calamities have been hitting Odisha frequently and asked the Centre to step up its assistance to the state, while Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena) said the government should focus on preventive measures.
Shashi Tharoor (Cong), who represents Thiruvananthapuram constituency which was the most affected by the cyclone, said there was no early warning signal available to the state government, even when the radars to provide advance warnings were located in Kerala (Thumba) itself. He demanded immediate investigation into the lapses and gaps leading to loss of lives and properties due to the "horrendous human tragedy".
Saugata Roy (TMC) sought immediate decision on compensation and asked the government to provide data on the fishermen killed and missing in the calamity. Several other members participated in the debate that went on for over two hours.