Centre, TN spar over release of relief for floods

Nirmala Sitharaman criticised the state for distributing relief in cash rather than crediting it in bank accounts.
Minister of Finance of India Nirmala Sitharaman | Express
Minister of Finance of India Nirmala Sitharaman | Express

CHENNAI: The central and state governments crossed swords again on Friday after union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed Rs 900 crore had already been released to Tamil Nadu and state finance minister Thangam Thennarasu retorted that it was a fraction of aid sought after the recent floods in Chennai and south TN. 

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, Sitharaman said the centre had released Rs 900 crore in two installments towards the State Disaster Relief Fund, the second of which reached TN on December 12, well ahead of the rains in south TN. 

The union minister then dismissed charges that the Regional Meteorological Centre had not warned TN of the impending rainfall and took a swipe at Chief Minister M K Stalin for meeting with the INDIA bloc in Delhi when south TN was reeling under floods. She criticised the state distributing relief in cash rather than crediting it in bank accounts.

Thennarasu, in a statement, disputed her charges, stating that the centre had released Rs 450 crore when the state had sought Rs 21,692 crore, he said from 2015, the centre has only released 4.61% of funds demanded by the state for interim and permanent relief. “It seems as if BJP will allocate funds only in proportion to its vote share in the state.” 

On criticism of Stalin’s meeting with the INDIA bloc, he said the CM had planned the trip with a meeting with the prime minister in mind. 

Over 42K rescued in south TN districts, says Nirmala

Meanwhile, commenting on the memorandum Stalin submitted to PM Narendra Modi demanding funds of Rs 2,000 crore and for the calamity be declared a national disaster, Sitharaman said there is no provision to declare a national disaster. “State governments, if required by appropriate guidelines, can declare such incidents as calamities at the state level,” she said. Even 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was not declared a national disaster, she later added in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Detailing the rescue efforts in inundated parts of south TNtn, Sitharaman said 42,290 people have been rescued. Nine helicopters from the army rescued 5,049 persons in 87 trips from flood-affected areas. As on Thursday, official records showed that 31 people had died in rain-related incidents in southern TNtn, she said. Later, TN chief secretary Shiv Das Meena put the toll at 35 as on Friday.

“I personally met with Home Minister Amit Shah in the afternoon of December 18 and requested him to provide additional assistance in the wake of unprecedented rains in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli, Kanniyakumari and Tenkasi districts. The home minister immediately accepted the request and helicopters were promptly deployed for rescue efforts. The Union Home Ministry is constantly monitoring the flood situation and providing the necessary assistance,” Sitharaman said.

Replying to charges that the centre is not providing enough disaster funds to TN, the union minister said the centre releases funds towards the SDRF every year and the Rs 900 crore that was allocated for the current financial year has already been released. Regarding CM Stalin’s accusation that the RMC had delayed in issuing a rain warning, she said that the RMC in Chennai is equipped with state-of-the-art technology. “The RMC issued the warning on December 12 itself. Besides, it also issued warnings every three hours in its Nowcast,” she said.

Sitharaman also criticised Stalin for attending a meeting of the INDIA parties in Delhi instead of being on the ground, in flood-hit locales of the state, adding that central agencies reached the southern districts before the CM. Underlining the centre’s intention to extend full support to TNtn, she said, “PM Modi and Home Minister Shah are both working with the utmost concern for the interests of TNtn, this will continue to be so.”

Replying to a query regarding the insurance claims of flood-affected MSME units at Ambattur Industrial Estate in Chennai, the union minister said directions have been issued to insurance companies to disburse due compensation at the earliest.

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