Centre’s decision to deny Kerala minister visit to Kuwait triggers political row | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Centre’s decision to deny Kerala minister visit to Kuwait triggers political row

Jun 15, 2024 04:46 AM IST

Pinarayi Vijayan and state’s opposition criticised the Centre’s move, while Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Union minister Suresh Gopi backed the decision.

Kochi: A political row has erupted after Kerala’s health minister Veena George was allegedly denied permission by the Centre to travel to Kuwait on Thursday as the official state representative in the backdrop of the fire tragedy in the West Asian country that claimed 49 lives, including 23 from the southern state.

Indian politician, Veena George, who is Kerala's Minister for Health and Woman and Child Development, consoles the mother of Akash Sasidharan Nair, one of the victims of a fire that broke out in a building housing foreign workers in Kuwait, at Pathanamthitta district in the southern Indian state of Kerala on June 13 (REUTERS)
Indian politician, Veena George, who is Kerala's Minister for Health and Woman and Child Development, consoles the mother of Akash Sasidharan Nair, one of the victims of a fire that broke out in a building housing foreign workers in Kuwait, at Pathanamthitta district in the southern Indian state of Kerala on June 13 (REUTERS)

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and state’s opposition Congress on Friday criticised the Centre’s move, while Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Union minister Suresh Gopi backed the decision.

George and Jeevan Babu, state mission director, National Health Mission, were authorised by the Kerala government on Thursday morning to fly to Kuwait to oversee the medical treatment being provided to injured persons from the state and repatriation of their mortal remains to India.

Since the trip required political clearance from the MEA, a request was forwarded to the Centre and the state chief secretary as well as the resident commission of Kerala in Delhi got involved in speeding up the bureaucratic process, George told reporters.

“We were hopeful of getting the clearance at the last minute and even travelled to the airport in Kochi...but the MEA did not give the political clearance for the travel. The death of each person from India in Kuwait is saddening. But Kerala has lost the most numbers of people in this tragedy,” she said.

“A lot of people injured in the fire are undergoing treatment in hospitals. Their families are not with them. In the face of this tragedy, these deaths and the grief, the stance of the Centre towards Kerala was wrong and highly unfortunate,” George alleged.

At least 49 people were killed in the fire in the Al-Mangaf building in Kuwait on June 12 and 45 of them were Indians, including 23 from Kerala.

Vijayan, who paid respects to the deceased after their bodies were transported to Kochi by an IAF aircraft from Kuwait, termed the Centre’s decision as “wrong”, but chose not to raise it at the hour of grief. “I don’t intend to raise it now as a serious issue, maybe, we can discuss it later. Right now, the state and central governments must work together and coordinate efforts to help these families affected by the tragedy,” he told reporters at the Kochi airport.

The opposition Congress in the southern state termed the Centre’s decision “most unfortunate”.

“When such tragedies occur in foreign countries, it’s important that representatives of state and central governments are present there. The Centre’s representative went early, but if the state representative was also there, she [George] could have coordinated efforts with the local Malayali expatriate outfits there. The Centre’s decision sends a wrong message,” VD Satheesan, leader of the opposition in Kerala assembly, said.

Governor Khan defended the Centre’s decision, saying when the bodies of the deceased were being brought on Friday, what would George have achieved by going to Kuwait a day ago. “So, if you go yesterday and then come back again today, what will be the actual work which will be done there? Already the government of India ministers were in Kuwait and they were bringing the bodies today [Friday],” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker and Union minister of state for tourism and petroleum Suresh Gopi said there was “no controversy” in the matter.

“There is no need to see politics in it. Every person has a position and responsibilities. The MEA is in charge of matters like these and decisions have been taken within the ambit of cooperative federalism. S Jaishankar and his team have done a good job. An MoS was deputed to go to Kuwait and everything has been handled well,” Gopi added.

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