In a matter of an hour, BJP Minister (MoS) for Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam made a drastic change in his tone, when speaking about Cyclone Ockhi, that hit the Kerala coast recently.
The Minister arrived in Kerala on Sunday to visit cyclone-affected places in Thiruvananthapuram, and held meetings with the state's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other ministers.
Alphons initially confirmed the Kerala government's stance that a cyclone warning was given on the noon of November 30. He said that agencies were unable to predict the path of the cyclone in advance.
While addressing the media along with Pinarayi Vijayan, Alphons said that Kerala hadn't been affected by such a cyclone in the last 50 years or so.
"The state government got the cyclone warning only on November 30, at around 12 pm. Fishermen had already ventured out to the sea with their boats on 28 or may be even before that. So by the time the cyclone warning came, the fishermen had already gone to the sea. An effective warning could not be given to them on time. I read all the messages and there was no certainty that the cyclone will hit Kerala. The advisories said that it will come through the North and then go to the West, which means, there was no possibility that it will hit the Kerala coast. This was not a regular cyclone, it changed its direction by the hour and hit Kerala, hence it was not possible to predict it. That's why we were not able to give out warning before," Alphons said.
The minister added that a joint operation by the Navy, Indian Coast Guard and the Air Force, had helped in rescuing the fishermen who were stranded in sea.
Minister Alphons then later proceeded to Poonthura too meet the fishermen community. However, when he addressed the media again, in the company of state BJP leaders including V Muraleedharan, the minister's tone changed to one of blame-game.
When asked by reporters about his earlier statement that the Centre could not predict the cyclone in advance, Alphons said:
"The cyclone warning was issued only on November 30, but the central government had issued clear warnings on 28 and 29 that there will be depression in the sea leading to troubled waters. On both these days, central government agencies have informed the Kerala government that fishermen should not be allowed to go to the sea. There's no doubt in that. Now why were the boats allowed to go to the sea?"
Alphons added that he was not going to resort to blame game and pin point whose fault it was, but said that the focus should be on rescuing and rehabilitating the people.
"However, the reality is that, the centre had issued warnings on time and it was on the state government to issue appropriate warnings to the fishermen," Alphons said.
Ockhi not to be named a national disaster
Cyclone Ockhi, which has caused widespread damage in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts, will not be termed a national disaster, minister Alphons said.
His statement comes a day after the Kerala government decided to approach the Centre for declaring Ockhi a national disaster.
"There is no provision to declare this as a national calamity. The Centre will provide funds. If needed, more funds will be allocated," IANS quoted Alphons as saying.
The cyclone has claimed the lives of 10 people while 115 were still reported missing.
According to Vijayan, 395 fishermen were saved in a biggest-ever joint rescue operation. The total number of rescued fishermen so far is 475.
"This was possible only perfect coordination between various rescue agencies," the Chief Minister said.