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Congress slams Centre over Kuwait trip bar on Kerala health minister Veena George

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had on Thursday announced that Veena would travel to Kuwait to coordinate relief and repatriation efforts on behalf of the state. But Veena, who was scheduled to take a late-night flight on Thursday, had to return from the Kochi airport

K.M. Rakesh Bangalore Published 15.06.24, 06:02 AM
Kerala health minister Veena George

Kerala health minister Veena George File picture

The denial of political clearance for Kerala health minister Veena George to travel to Kuwait to provide solace to expatriates from the state who suffered burn injuries in Wednesday’s apartment blaze has sparked a row with the Opposition Congress decrying the Centre’s attitude.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had on Thursday announced that Veena would travel to Kuwait to coordinate relief and repatriation efforts on behalf of the state. But Veena, who was scheduled to take a late-night flight on Thursday, had to return from the Kochi airport.

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“Injured Keralites are admitted to various hospitals. That’s why we wanted to be there,” she told reporters on Friday at the Kochi airport after receiving the victims’ bodies that were flown in by a special aircraft.

Vijayan, who led the state government delegation that received 31 bodies, 23 of them of Keralites, said he didn’t want to rake up a controversy.

“In my opinion, there has been a wrong approach (by the Centre). But this is not the time to rake up a controversy. What I mean is, we had decided to send our minister. Veena George even came here (to the Kochi airport), but couldn’t travel as she was denied political clearance. I am not taking this up now. We can discuss it later,” the chief minister told reporters.

The Wednesday morning inferno in the apartment in Mangaf area in Kuwait has so far killed 45 Indian expatriates, 24 of them Malayalis. While 23 of the Malayalis were residents of Kerala, one was based in Maharashtra. The Indian embassy in Kuwait has informed that 33 Indians are being treated at five different hospitals in Kuwait.

Fire had erupted in the building that housed employees of NBTC Group, a civil construction company owned by Keralite engineer-entrepreneur K.G. Abraham, on Wednesday morning when they were all asleep.

Minister of state for external affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh who travelled to Kuwait on Thursday and coordinated with Kuwaiti authorities for the repatriation of the 45 bodies of Indians was on the Indian Air Force aircraft that landed in Kochi at 10.30am
on Friday.

The Indian embassy in Kuwait in a statement said the deceased were from Kerala (23), Tamil Nadu (7), Andhra Pradesh (3), Uttar Pradesh (3), Odisha (2), and one each from Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bengal, Jharkhand and Haryana. Thirty-three Indians are hospitalised.

The 31 bodies were taken by ambulances to the grieving families in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka after a guard of honour by the Kerala police and tribute by the
state leaders.

The aircraft later left for Delhi with the remaining 14 bodies.

Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan of the Congress slammed the Union government for denying clearance to Veena. “It is very unfortunate that our minister was unable to go (to Kuwait). It is a wrong precedent.”

“The state government decided to depute the minister to represent the state. All of us have been in touch with Malayali organisations (in Kuwait), our own contacts and the (Indian) embassy. But such efforts have serious limitations. Our state government’s representative could have even helped the central government’s representative,” Satheesan added.

“The central government has taken an unnecessary step at such a critical juncture. We don’t agree with it,” said Satheesan, who was part of the state delegation that received the bodies at the Kochi airport.

Minister of state for tourism and petroleum, Suresh Gopi, downplayed the issue. “There is no place for any controversy during such a tragedy. You should not see politics in this. Every designation has a specific duty. The external affairs ministry is meant for this kind of work,” he said.

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