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To curb hartals, Kerala mulls steps, but CM Vijayan non-committal on ban

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said he was willing to convene an all-party meet to discuss ways to control hartals, which is crippling the state’s thriving tourism sector but was non-committal on a blanket ban.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2019 18:44 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala,hartals,Pinarayi Vijayan
Shop owners stage a protest demanding protection during the statewide hartal called by pro-Hindutva outfits against the entry of two women into the Lord Ayyappa Temple (Sabarimala), in Kozhikode. (PTI FILE PHOTO)

Amid growing demand to curb recurring shutdowns, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday said he was willing to convene an all-party meet to discuss ways to control hartals, which is crippling the state’s thriving tourism sector but was non-committal on a blanket ban.

Kerala has witnessed five state-wide hartals — three called by the Sabarimala Karma Samiti, an umbrella organisation of Hindu outfits opposing the entry of women of child-bearing age into Sabarimala temple, and two by Left trade unions (part of an all-India strike) — in the last three months.

“We are ready to convene an all-party meet. Let us first arrive at a political consensus. Then we can think of measures to control it,” the CM said in the assembly while admitting the state’s image was taking a beating because of repeated hartals.

Without mentioning the Sabarimala issue, he said frequent hartals were a right-wing ploy to pull the state backward. But he said it was not possible to do away with hartals as a form of political protest.

“This is a political form of protest, perhaps as a last resort. But it has become a primary resort for certain forces,” he said.

When many opposition members favoured a legislation to curb frequent shutdowns, the CM was non-committal.

Interestingly, Left parties have been at the forefront of calling work disruptions earlier, but now even smaller outfits belonging to different ideological groups successfully enforce hartals in the state.

Union minister of state for tourism, K J Alphons had made a fervent plea recently, saying hartals were bleeding the tourism industry in the state.

When newsmen pointed out that his party BJP was leading this time in calling maximum shutdowns, he said whoever enforced work disruptions and forced shutdowns should be dealt with firmly.

He also chided his home state, Kerala, saying at this rate, it will have to start ‘hartal tourism’. In the wake of frequent shutdowns and travel advisories from the UK and the US with regard to the Sabarimala agitation, tour operators said many high-end cruise ships bypassed Kerala.

According to statistics compiled by ‘Say No to Hartal’, an NGO, the state had observed 97 shutdowns in 2018 which includes state-wide, district and panchayat and block levels. Right wing groups (BJP and allies) top the list with 33 calls followed by opposition UDF 27 and ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) 16.

After the Kerala Travel Mart in May — held to showcase the tourism potential of the state — the CM had called an all-party meet to exempt tourism sector from the purview of hartals, but it remained only on papers.

Besides inflicting untold miseries on travellers, patients, students, traders and others, estimates indicate that the state loses Rs 2,000 crore revenue on a day of hartal.

“People will have to come forward to resist this menace. Protesters are restricting the free movement of people. It infringes upon their fundamental rights,” said Kerala Vyapari Vikasana Ekopana Samiti leader T Nazruddin.

“After Nipah virus outbreak and the worst flood of the century, the tourism industry is slowing returning to normal. December-January is the peak season and this time, it witnessed maximum shutdowns. If the situation continued like this, the state will suffer badly,” said E M Najeeb, president of the Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry.

In Kerala, the tourism industry generates Rs 29,000 crore revenue annually according to the state tourism department.

On January 3, the last hartal called by Sabarimala Karma Samiti to protest the entry of two women in Sabarimala, at least 90 buses of the ailing Kerala State Road Transport Corporation were damaged in stoning incidents.

Later, KSRTC held a mourning rally with damaged fleet carrying a slogan, “I am poor, please spare me”.

First Published: Jan 28, 2019 18:29 IST