At a press meet in New Delhi, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that if the Tamil Nadu government had taken adequate measures ahead of the rains, the state would not have been in its current predicament. Speaking to the media on December 22, the Finance Minister said, “Flood relief is a different matter, that comes after flooding takes place. But if precautionary measures had been taken, this situation would not have occurred. I am speaking about Chennai and surrounding areas like Ambattur Industrial Estate, the harbour, and train stations.”
This is in direct contrast to what a six-member inter-ministerial central team led by Kunal Satyarthi, advisor (policy and plan), National Disaster Management Authority, said after visiting flood-affected places across Chennai on December 12.
“We appreciate that the government has responded extremely well, we from the Union government are here to appreciate that and help the state government recover as quickly as possible. I am appreciative that the TN govt has done an enormous amount of work in preparedness and response. The casualties have been extremely minimal, it is extremely sad that it has happened. The infrastructure is much more resilient than 2015,” Kunal Satyarthi said.
However, on Friday, FM Nirmala said, “The Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) in Chennai issued a warning for four southern districts – Thoothukudi, Thenkasi, Tirunelveli, and Kanyakumari on December 12. They warned of heavy rains from December 14 to December 17. It is the most modern centre. They keep putting out updates five days ahead. Aside from this, they also issue updates every three hours regarding weather conditions for the next three hours. It is like a cycle. Those who are saying that they were not warned ahead, please listen to what I am saying.”
The Finance Minister’s veiled remark appears to be a reference to comments made by Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Milk and Dairy Development, Mano Thangaraj who had on December 19, questioned the efficiency of India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecasts for Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Thenkasi, and Kanyakumari. Mano had blamed the late issuance of a red warning to the said districts by the IMD as the reason for the lack of preparedness by the authorities. He had also alleged that the extent of property damage could have been lessened and fewer people would have been stranded if the warnings had been precise.
She also responded to a question on the Rs 6000 compensation awarded to flood victims by the Tamil Nadu government. “It is not for me to say whether they should give such an amount or not. That is up to them to do so if they wish, but my question is why is the money being paid in cash instead of direct benefit transfer?” She also said,”This is government money, not my father’s money or your father’s money.” Her comment was a retort to Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin asking why the union government was not releasing funds to Tamil Nadu for flood relief. “Did we ask for their father’s money?” Udhayanidhi had then asked.
The state government has decided to issue the relief amount for Chennai’s flood victims at ration shops through a token system. “Are we able to tell who the money is going to? If it is given through direct benefit transfer we will be able to track who is benefiting. I can only hope that the money is going to people who were really affected by the floods. Why are they giving it in cash? Today Modi has given bank accounts to everyone in India.”
It may be noted that Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin had earlier this month clarified that as many people were facing challenges due to maintaining minimum balance in these accounts, the state government was awarding compensation in cash.