The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stung Jaya rants at PC tsunami slight

Chennai, Jan. 30: Jayalalithaa today cried foul over P. Chidambaram's 'unilateral' announcement of a rehabilitation package for tsunami-hit fishermen and sought the Prime Minister's intervention.

The Union finance minister had yesterday announced in a press statement in New Delhi that the Centre would fully subsidise the fishermen whose catamarans and nets had to be replaced; those with fibreglass and mechanised boats would get 35 per cent central subsidy and the rest as loan.

The money would be disbursed through the scheduled commercial banks, which would accept applications from February 1, he had added.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa accused him of 'completely bypassing and disregarding the state government in undertaking the rehabilitation package', a couple of hours after Chidambaram clarified today that the bank route allowed both subsidy and loan to 'be obtained from a single place'.

Jayalalithaa wrote to Manmohan Singh, seeking his immediate intervention in the Union finance minister's 'truly shocking' move that included 'issuing directions' to the chief secretaries, relief commissioners and district collectors of the affected states.

'Our Constitution visualises a specific role for the states. Fishery is very much in the state list. When this is so, I am dismayed by the facile manner in which the delicate fabric of Centre-state relations has been torn asunder by the press statement of the Union finance minister,' she said in a press statement issued today.

Jayalalithaa further requested Singh to 'reverse the arrangement set out by the finance minister and, as per the usual practice, entrust the states with both the responsibility and the funds for undertaking the entire rehabilitation programme'.

She had earlier also sought full central subsidy, in the form of 'grant assistance', for all the damaged fishing craft, both traditional and mechanised. The replacement of each catamaran along with net would cost Rs 32,000, according to the state.

Chidambaram today said: 'The chief minister's plea (for full subsidy) is under the Government of India's consideration.' He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an interaction with political, trade and industry leaders on the implementation of value-added tax.

The list of the affected fishermen, Chidambaram said, would be prepared by the Tamil Nadu fisheries department.

Jayalalithaa, however, also took exception to the Union finance minister's 'unilateral' naming of the rehabilitation scheme as 'Rajiv Gandhi Rehabilitation Package for Tsunami-Affected Areas'.

She described it as an attempt to 'make political capital out of an unprecedented natural disaster', especially when people across the political spectrum had appreciated her government's relief efforts.

Some words of appreciation laced with reproach came from Chidambaram's cabinet colleague, petroleum and panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, when he regretted that local body chiefs had been ignored in the relief effort in tsunami-hit coastal tracts, particularly in Tamil Nadu.

Aiyar said the relief effort mounted by the state government in Tamil Nadu's worst-hit Nagapattinam district ' put together by a team of senior IAS officers ' was 'praiseworthy and a considerable achievement'. Chunks of the district fall within his parliamentary constituency.

But too much focus, Aiyar said, was put on southern Nagapattinam at the cost of its northern reaches, separated by a 25-km stretch of Karaikal in the Union territory of Pondicherry.

If only 'the local panchayat leaders had been associated with the relief and rehabilitation work, it could have been done even more efficiently and in lesser time,' he emphasised.

The minister spent the whole of yesterday at the Madras School Of Social Work, presiding over a meeting of 'local government presidents from tsunami-affected areas of Andaman and Nicobar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala'.

The panchayat chiefs present complained that 'local government representatives were totally ignored by the government agencies in managing the crisis'.

'I cannot do more than receive your requests and request the chief minister to listen to those who are responsible in the political system (panchayat heads),' Aiyar said.

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