Accidents and Ministers Thursday, Dec 31 2009 

The manner in which our Ministers react to major accidents is pathetic. Their usual reaction is that the collector has been asked to take urgent relief measures. (Do our officers from the Indian Administrative service wait for directives from the Ministers to take relief measures? If so, something is seriously wrong with our administration. Rescue and relief is something that should move without directives from the Minister after the accident.) This time (gas tanker accident at Karungappally), they went overboard in exposing themselves and their departments.

The Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran said in an official release that he had even given directives for rehabiltiation. He did not stop with that. He immediately called a meeting of oil company and other officials at Karunagappally for consultations on “how to prevent such accidents in future, and if such accidents occur, what should done to mitigate them.” Definitely the right time and venue to think of solutions!
He also congratulated the officials including police, who are suspected to have triggered the explosion by starting their jeep close to the leaking tanker, for their good work.

Not to be left behind, the Revenue Minister K. P. Rajendran immediately rang up the Central Disaster Management Authority and asked for advice and as to how to handle the situation in Karunagappally and protective equipment for relief workers. The fun of this is that the Revenue Department was preparing for disaster management for the past three years. However, disaster managements plans are not ready in most of the districts and preparedness is still lacking.

However, it seems that the school teacher did better this time. P. K. Sreemathy (Health Minister), who has miserably failed to contain contagious diseases in the State, this time quietly rushed to the medical college hospital in Thiruvananthapuram and reached there even before the victims arrived. Owing to her presence or not, the college was well-prepared to receive the victims, reports said. Whether it was because she chose to be silent or because the media ignored here, Sreemathy has made no statements and there is no press releases in her name on the official Web site.

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Ministers as Itinerants Thursday, Dec 25 2008 

Ministers' jobs includes staging protest dharnas in Delhi!

Ministers' jobs includes staging protest dharnas in Delhi!

In the post Ministers as Mourners, Kerala Views discussed how the Ministers of Kerala are compelled to spent a lot of time visiting accident spots and bereaved families. They also spent a lot of time for attending minor functions.

Look at the functions that the Ministers attended in and around Trivandrum on December 24.

  • Education Minister M. A. Baby inaugurates programme committee office of State School Youth Festival.
  • Minister for Law M. Vijayakumar and Minister Electricity visit Sahavasa Camp of Model residential school students at Kulathur.
  • Health Minister P. K. Sreemathi goes to SAT Hospital to receive a check from a women’s group.
  • Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem inaugurates Community Palmyra Weaving Centre at Ottasekharamangalam.
  • Revenue Minister K. P. Rajendran inaugurates Revenue Adalath at Nedumangad Taluk Office. (This is supposed to be a State-wide inauguration).
  • Food and Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran inaugurates National Consumer Day at Kanakakunnu Palace.
  • Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran inaugurates meeting of Jana Seva Samithi at Palayam.
  • State Level inauguration of Consumers’ Day: Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran.
  • Finance Minister Thomas Isaac inaugurates seminar organised by Kerala Government Contractors Association.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan had two functions to attend which were more important than the ones attended by his Ministers. One was the distribution of ration cards and the other was the presentation of Ezhuthachan Purarskaran. These could have been done by the Ministers concerned.

One could under the Education Minister inaugurating the State School Youth Festival. But why should he go to inaugurate the programme committee office? Earlier, examination results used to be announced by the departments concerned. Now, it is the Minister’s duty to announce them and even visit the houses of rank holders to congratulate them.

The Ministers are on travel most of the days for functions like these. Often, they arrive in the capital on Tuesday evening for the Cabinet meeting the next day and leave after the meeting. As the Ministers leave their offices, most of the private staff members also leave either to accompany the Minister or to attend to their private affairs. Governance is left to the remaining staff who are often incompetent. Several Ministers are comfortable if they are left to roam the State, apparently to make themselves popular. They do not realize that good governance can also make them popular. Most Ministers including the Chief Minister knows very little about the subjects handled by them.

If one goes by official releases, the Forest Minister Binoy Viswam has the longest itinerary every week. He may not be on the top. It may be just the case of other Ministers not giving enough publicity to their itinerary.

Who would tell our touring Ministers that they were chosen to govern? No more do people want to see their faces at meetings as they are always on the television!

Tailpiece: Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was the Chief Guest at the passing out parade of police dogs in Trichur on October 19. When the Minister saluted, one dog reportedly turned its head away. A photo of this is in Sree with Malayala Monorama on Sunday (updated on 28/12/2008).

Update: Here is what the Ministers will be doing on the New Year Day in Trivandrum:

  • Education Minister M. A. Baby to inaugurate extension of time for lending of books at the Public Library.
  • Works Minister to switch on new traffic lights at a nearby location.
  • Water Resources Minister N. K. Premachandran to inaugurate new counter for paying water charges at Vellayambalam.
  • Forest Minister Binoy Viswam to release  a book by C. V. Balakrishnan at Press Club.
  • Chief Minister V. S. Achuthandan to inaugurate traffic safety week at Kamaleswaram

In the evening, Finance Minister Thomas Issac and Transport Minister Mathew T. Thomas will be going to Amaravila check post to inaugurate an electronic weigh bridge!!

Ministers as mourners Saturday, Dec 6 2008 

Perumon train accident

Perumon train accident

Very tragic events happen in the State, and it is only natural for people to expect the Ministers and others in the Executive to respond to them. But, how should they do that? Should ministers rush to the spot?

When the Perumon train tragedy occurred in Kollam district (in 1988), hardly any Minister rushed to the spot. But fire force, police and revenue officials did. Because people downed in minutes, they could not do much by way of saving lives. The locals did. They even saved people trapped in partly submerged compartments. But the bureaucrats managed the recovery of bodies well. Later, they congratulated themselves with good service entries.

If Ministers had rushed there, they could have nothing other than hindering the fire engines and ambulances moving through the narrow roads. (Though Ministers visited the place later on, that never became a media event).

The enquiry commission, appointed by the Railways, reported that the accident was caused by a tornado, some thing never heard of in Kerala. Hence, none could be held accountable for the tragedy.

In recent years, Ministers have started issuing statements that they had directed collectors to do the relief work, government hospitals to provide treatment to the victims and so on. Reading those statements, it would appear that no system is in place in the State that would take charge of the situation without the directives from the ministers. Of late, it has become mandatory for Ministers to visit the location.

When terror struck Mumbai, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Opposition Leader L. K. Advani visited the city, necessitating the deployment of about 2000 policemen and other security personal for their security. This was when the police should be fighting the terrorists and the Prime Minister pondering over how to coordinate the country’s response and diplomacy.

When nine school children were killed in a road accident at Irikkur (Kannur district) on December 5, the Chief Minister, Revenue Minister, Education Minister and the Health Minister and Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy rushed to the spot. This is a record. Fewer Ministers had gone to Kothamangalam when 15 schoolchildren and 3 teachers died in the Thattekkad boat tragedy.

The difference between now and then is that the coming year is an election year. More than that, the public demand that the Ministers should visit the spot keep on increasing. The public have come to believe that it is the duty of the ministers to do so. However, the Ministers do not face enough pressure to ensure accountability. Most of the recommendations of the commission that enquired into the boat tragedy remain unimplemented. The same can be said about enquiries into several other tragedies also.

Theoretically, the visits of several ministers to accident spots should affect the governance. However, the governance is not hit seriously, as most of the Ministers are on travel most of the time. Still, it would be a good idea to arrive at a consensus that only one Minister need represent the Cabinet. However, collective responsibility of the Cabinet is thing of the past with Minister operating with opposing interests. So, everyone connected to the departments concerned should be there. However, they hardly even do any follow other than issuing the ‘directives’ and announcing the solatia. The underlying problems that caused the tragedy are never addressed.

While the ministers undertake their tours at government expenses, the plight of the members of the Assembly are unenviable. The norm now is that they should attend every funeral and marriage in their constituency. They will get only their normal constituency allowance. And the visits become more demanding in an election year. Under such circumstances, even sincere members would not find time to do their real work as legislators.

Cacophony of Kerala Cabinet on display in Legislature Thursday, Feb 28 2008 

Chief Minister of Kerala V. S. AchuthanandanThe authority and prestige of the Chief Minister’s office in Kerala suffered another blow when the Chief Minister could not comprehensively reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the Governor for his address in the Legislative Assembly on February 28.

More than half a dozen ministers rose to reply to the debate ahead of the Chief Minister, in an unprecedented display of lack of collective responsibility in the Ministry. In that process the Power Minister Mr.A. K. Balan and Chief Minister Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan even contradicted each other. (While Mr. Balan said that no land was available for acquisition by government for distribution to the tribals, Mr. Achuthanandan said that land taken back from encroachers would be given to tribals on a priority basis.)

The practice so far in the Assembly was for the Chief Minister, who heads the government, to comprehensively reply to the debate while a few Ministers may specifically answer any allegations raised against them during the debate. As his Minister’s had taken over the stage, the Chief Minister confined his remarks to few words.

Mr. Achuthanandan was tongue tied when the Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy asked about the stand of the Government on the HMT land deal. While the Advocate General has filed an affidavit before the Court saying that there were no irregularities in the sale of land by the public sector company (Hindusthan Machine Tools), the Chief Minister did not appear to share the same view. But all he said was that the Court verdict would serve interests of the State. He avoided an answer whether the affidavit filed by the AG was in the interests of the State.