Thiruvananthapuram: The Center on Sunday said Cyclone Ockhi, which wrecked havoc in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Lakshadweep, cannot be declared a national calamity as there is no such scheme, but assured all necessary assistance to tackle the situation.
Speaking to reporters after attending a high-level meeting chaired by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the Secretariat here, union minister Alphons Kannanthanam said the Center has already given necessary relief funds to the state government.
"We have received a memorandum from the state government requesting to declare Cyclone Ockhi as a national calamity. But, there is no such scheme for the Centre to do the same," he said.
Alphons does U-turn
In a blame game over Cyclone Ockhi, the Kerala government insisted that it received an IMD weather alert only on November 30, but Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam said it was issued two days earlier.
Though Kannanthanam earlier backed the state's contention that they had not received any prior warning, he changed his stand within hours and said the central agencies had issued early cyclone alerts.
At a high-level meeting convened by the state government here, chief secretary K M Abraham said they had received a warning about the possibility of a deep depression on the morning of November 30, but there was no prediction about the cyclone, a statement from the Chief Minister's Office said.
The state received the cyclone alert only by noon on November 30 and all possible relief steps were taken within the short span of time, he said.
Majority of fishermen who got trapped in the rough sea due to the cyclone were those who had ventured for fishing on November 28 and 29, the chief secretary said.
Earlier, backing the chief secretary's stand, Kannanthanam, who also took part in the meeting along with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, said the Indian Meteorological Department's first alert indicated only about a possible depression.
It had not mentioned about any emergency situation or warning to stop fishermen from venturing into sea. It only made a plea asking them not to set out to sea, the CMO statement said quoting the Union minister.
Kannathanam also repeated the statement to the media, later, while briefing about the meeting.
However, hours later he said the central agencies had given necessary alerts on November 28 and 29 itself.
He also said the alert had clearly stated that fishing boats should not be allowed to go to sea and it was the responsibility of the state government to take necessary steps in this regard.
Earlier in the meeting, Kannanthanam had said the cyclone could not be declared a national calamity as there was no such scheme, but assured all necessary assistance to tackle the situation.
The cyclone has wrecked havoc in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep, and left hundreds of fishermen stranded at sea.
He said joint search operations, carried out by the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, would continue and more ships, flights and helicopters deployed to rescue all the fishermen who were stranded mid-sea due to the cyclone.
The chief minister said over 400 fishermen were rescued from the sea in a single day following the search operations.
He also said the assistance of local fishermen should also be taken for the searches.
Besides the chief minister, his Cabinet colleagues, senior government officials and top officials of Navy, the Coast Guard and the IMD, attended the meeting, the CMO statement said.