Sunday, February 28

Centre, Kerala lock horns over expatriates’ evacuation


Kerala has crossed swords with the Centre over the evacuation of stranded expatriates from the Middle Eastern countries even as the state reported three deaths and 94 fresh cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on Thursday, highest since the outbreak began in January.

The state government has landed in a piquant situation after Congress-led opposition parties began a state-wide campaign holding it responsible for the death of 210 non-resident Indians (NRIs) in Gulf countries due to Covid-19 in the last three months.

They stepped up their pressure after the minister of state for external affairs, V Muraleedharan, said the state’s go-slow approach resulted in the poor evacuation of residents of Kerala from abroad.

The minister said only 20% of evacuations were held and the state was interested more in maintaining its record.

As stranded expatriates’ woes took an emotional turn, both the state and the Centre blamed each other for their plight.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, said there was a ploy to portray the state’s track record in a bad light.

“We never restricted the number of flights. We are aware of the plight of our people abroad. Some people are trying to mislead them. But their ploy won’t succeed,” he said adding the government was keen on their safety and early return.

“I don’t know why people holding responsible positions are creating such confusion. I heard the Union government had some problem in dispatching too many flights,” the CM said while asked about Muraleedharan’s statement.

Pinarayi Vijayan said the state had agreed to 12 flights a day and the Centre was not able to meet this request.

Muraleedharan had said earlier the Centre was ready to fly 34 flights a day but the state forced it to reduce them to 12.

Some of the bereaved said they never expected such an end to their loved ones and added that political parties are busy lauding their contributions but have turned a blind eye to their plight.

“We could not see my father’s body. We were told his body was buried in a mosque in the UAE. It was terrible. We suffered in silence,” the daughter one of the victims in Kozhikode said, adding that her father was planning to come home in June.

“Nobody has called us so far. Here parties are busy fighting for political mileage. His life should have been saved if authorities helped him return early,” she said.

After the first round of lockdown, the state government had started a website for expatriates who wished to return and more than four lakh people registered in the first week itself. The latest data show less than 40,000 arrived in the last three weeks.

Relatives of those aboard have said they are worried after a spurt in Covid-19 cases in some of the Gulf countries and that their return is now getting delayed inordinately.

At least 18 lakh people from the state work in the Gulf.

The state reported three deaths and 94 new Covid-19 cases, highest spike since the outbreak began, said the CM adding 80% of the recent cases were imported.

The state’s Covid-19 tally has gone up to 1,588 and the death toll has risen to 15.