10 dead in Kerala, TN, several fishermen missing as cyclone Ockhi heads for Lakshadweep

Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands on Friday.

Cyclone Ockhi: 8 killed, several fishermen missing
Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands today.
Four people were killed in south Kerala and five in south Tamil Nadu in rain-related incidents yesterday even as the authorities mounted a massive search and rescue operation for scores of fishermen reported missing at sea.
One fisherman, who was among those rescued today, died in hospital here today, taking the toll in Kerala to five, official sources said.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a warning of a very severe cyclone for Lakshadweep Islands this evening and said the system was likely to intensify further in the next 24 hours.
In a Red message issued at 1730 hours today, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the system, now over the Lakshadweep  area and adjoining southeast Arabian Sea, continued to move west-northwestwards with a speed of 15 kmph during the past six hours and intensified further into a "Very Severe Cyclonic Storm".
It lay centred at 1430 hours IST today near latitude 9.1º N and longitude 73.0º E, about 90 km north of Minicoy and 220 km south-southeast of Amini Divi. 
"The system is very likely to intensify further during next 24 hours. It is very likely to continue to move west-northwestwards across Lakshadweep Islands during next 24 hours and then move north/ northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours," the bulletin said.
The IMD warned that, under the influence of the system, heavy to very heavy rainfall was very likely at most places over Lakshadweep area during the next 24 hours, with isolated extremely heavy falls. There could be isolated heavy to very heavy falls during the subsequent 24 hours, it said.
The bulletin also said that rainfall was very likely at many places over Kerala during the next 24 hours, with heavy rainfall at isolated places.
According to it, gale winds, with speed reaching 120-130 kmph, gusting to 145 kmph, were very likely over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and gradual decrease thereafter.
Squally winds, with speed reaching 45-55 kmph, gusting to 65 kmph, were very likely along and off Kerala during the next 24 hours and along and off Karnataka coast during the next 24 hours, it said.
The bulletin said sea conditions would be phenomenal over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and very high during the subsequent 24 hours.
Sea conditions would be high to very high along and off the Kerala coast during the next 24 hours and along and off the Karnataka coast during subsequent 24 hours.
The cyclone could cause damage to power and communication lines due to breaking of tree branches and uprooting of large avenue trees; major damage to thatched houses, huts and kutcha houses; some damage to pucca roads; flooding of escape routes; and damage to banana and papaya trees and standing crops.
Storm surge of about one metre above astronomical tides was very likely to inundate low lying areas of Lakshadweep Islands, the bulletin said.
Fishermen along and off Lakshadweep Islands were advised not to venture into the sea during the next 48 hours. Similarly, fishermen were advised not to venture into the sea along and off the Kerala and Karnataka coasts during the next 48 hours.
Ships and aircraft of the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) were involved in the rescue efforts at sea while teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed in the affected areas in the two states and units of the Indian Army were on standby to come to the aid of the civil adminstration, if necessary.
Official sources here said more than 220 people had been rescued from the sea by the Navy, ICG and IAF. Many of them were admitted to hospitals here for treatment, they said. 
Some of the fishermen were rescued by a Japanese cargo ship in the area. As many as 37 people were rescued by Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) of the Indian Navy which flew between Thiruvananthapuram and the sea.
The ICG said it had deployed nine ships and two Dornier aircraft in the area and rescued as many as 52 fishermen so far.
The International Safety Net (ISN) had been activated to advise Merchant Traffic to render assistance to stranded fishermen, it said.
Among others, Indian Naval Ships Sagardhwani, Jamuna and Nireekshak were in the affected areas in the Arabian Sea. INS Sharda and Shardul are also sailing out soon to augment the search effort. Both ships were in final stages of embarking HADR items for assistance at Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, Indian Navy sources said.
In Poonthura, a coastal village near here, angry groups of fishermen and their families staged protests, alleging that the government had not acted in time and not done enough as far as the rescue efforts were concerned. 
Former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, both senior leaders of the Congress, visited the area today to listen to the woes of the villagers.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told newspersons that the state government had received an alert about the cyclone only on Thursday afternoon. He said the rescue efforts were also hampered by the bad weather conditions.
Mr. Vijayan said all possible efforts were being made to locate and rescue the missing fishermen. He said the state government had urged the Ministry of Defence to deploy more aircraft for the search and rescue operations.
In Lakshadweep, the authorities had issued orders for the evacuation of people from low-lying areas in Kalpeni, Minicoy, Kavratti, Agatti, Androth, Kadamath and Amini islands.

Heavy rains in Kerala disrupts normal life

Heavy rains pounded Kerala on Monday disrupting normal life with more rainfall predicted till Wednesday, weather officials said.
In Alappuzha district's Chandriroor, an uprooted tree fell on top of the last bogey of the Thiruvananthapuram-bound Mangalore Express, but there were no reports of any injuries.
The train resumed its journey after a three-hour delay.
It has been raining in several districts for the past 36 hours and as a result more than 3,000 people have been accommodated in relief camps.
All educational institutions in eight of the 14 districts were closed on Monday and most of the university examinations were postponed.
The worst affected districts include Alappuzha, Idukki, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kottayam, Kollam and Kochi.
The Met Department has issued an alert for the coastal districts, warning fishermen not to venture in the rough seas.
Alerts were also issued in the hilly areas warning of possible landslides.
Buses to Karnataka via Wayanad district have been suspended.
State Revenue Minister E. Chandrasekheran has directed his department and the district authorities to take stock of the estimated loss.
So far three deaths have been reported.
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Once in a blue bloom: Kerala's famed neelakurinji set for rare mass bloom

The kurinji bloom in the shola-grassland ecosystem in 2014. (Photo by Prasad Ambattu/IANS)
The kurinji bloom in the shola-grassland ecosystem in 2014. (Photo by Prasad Ambattu/IANS)
Starting late July, the Anamalai hills near Munnar in Kerala will be resplendent, clad in a purplish blue carpet. The famed neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) will burst into flower - a phenomenon that occurs once in 12 years. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to the Munnar hills to behold the spectacle that lasts up until October.
Munnar is home to the highest concentration of neelakurinji plants in the country - spread over 3,000 hectares of rolling hills. Each shrub reproduces once in its life time and dies after flowering. It takes another 12 years for the seeds to sprout again and grow up to 30 to 60 centimetres high, for another glorious bloom.
The neelakurinji belongs to the genus Strobilanthes, which is a tropical plant species found in Asia and Australia. There are about 450 species of Strobilanthes in the world, of which 146 are found in India and of them, about 43, in Kerala.
The blooming of neelakurunji this year has ensured the fourth most important place for the Western Ghats in the Lonely Planet's 2018 Best in Asia.
According to Prasad Ambattu, a journalist and a resident of Munnar, there are two 12-year cycles simultaneously going on in the Anamalai hills. In one cycle, the last neelakurinji bloom was in 2006 and the next one is now, in 2018. In the other cycle, the last bloom was in 2014.
The mass flowering neelakurinji provides a feast for butterflies, honeybees and other insects. The purple flowers hold a large amount of nectar, which especially attract the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana).
"This honey from the neelakurinji is very special. It lasts for about 15 years without getting spoilt," said G. Rajkumar, chief coordinator of the NGO Save Kurinji Campaign Council. He added that the honey is supposed to have medicinal properties.
Rajkumar also said that the ecosystem that supports the kurinji plants plays a major role in bringing water to the Amaravati river which is a tributary of the Kaveri river, a main water source for Tamil Nadu. "The Kurinji reserve is in the catchment area of Amaravati river," he said.
The tourist boom begins
The forest department expects a large number of tourists to arrive in Munnar during this season, said Lekshmi Rajeshwari, forest range officer at Devikulam, which is part of the Eravikulam National Park, the prime destination where neelakurinji will bloom.
"One million tourists, including travellers from Europe and the United States, are expected to visit this amazing place this year," she said. 
Last October, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had communicated through a social media post that around eight lakh (0.8 million) tourists are expected for the bloom season and the state government aims to introduce a series of measures to protect the Eravikulam National Park. As an unprecedented number of tourists will visit the region, the government plans to restrict the numbers entering the park and the amount of time they spend there, said Vijayan's post. Action on waste management and required tourist facilities are to be in place to safeguard the national park.
Encroachment on the neelakuri habitats
The Kurinjimala Sanctuary was declared in 2006, during the previous mass flowering to protecting the neelakurinji and its habitat. "This sanctuary gives the rarest, most spectacular view of neelakurinji," said G. Baburaj, an environmentalist. "But it is eyed by many," he added, elaborating that the area is being encroached on by resorts, hotels, plantations and small farms.
To put an end to the encroachments, the Kerala government passed an ordinance in 2006, for protecting the Kurinjimala Sanctuary. Since a number of settlements came under the area in the sanctuary, which was raising a stir among locals, the government, in the ordinance, authorised a sub-collector to adjudicate land claims after hearing complaints.
The proposed land that came under this ordinance included 2,041 houses, more than 53 government offices, 12 schools, 62 temples, churches and even banks. There were allegations against local politicians for forging title deeds of land ownership in the areas declared as protected.
However, for Kurinjimala to be declared as a wildlife sanctuary permanently under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, there is need for the settlement officer (in this case the Devikulam sub-collector) to go through the settlement of rights process for those who have inhabited or have rights over the land. This has now happened.
In November 2017, the Kerala Government decided to redraw the boundaries of the Kurinjimala Sanctuary - a move which had invited criticism alleging that it was to support the encroachers.
Following the controversy, Pinarayi Vijayan had promised that the reserve's area will not be reduced at any cost. He told media representatives that a committee will be formed to study the issues at the reserve and it will look in to the settlement concerns.
There is also a case pending in the Kerala High Court, demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry into the involvement of the local member of Parliament in fabricating documents for the land. Similarly, there are hundreds of such encroachments in the reserve, claims environmentalist G. Baburaj.
Protection for neelakurinji habitat finally declared
Now, in the latest decision as of April 2018, the Kerala cabinet has decided to ensure that the proposed Neelakurinji Sanctuary will have a minimum of 3,200 hectares. Though the cabinet had decided not to evict people with title deeds, it plans to redraw the boundaries in cooperation with the revenue department.
The cabinet decision includes appointing a settlement officer, conducting drone-based survey to identify the forest land and amending The Kerala Promotion of Tree Growth In Non-Forest Areas Act 2005 to prevent growing acacia and eucalyptus in the reserve forest area, all meant to benefit the Kurinjimala Sanctuary.
(In arrangement with, a source for environmental news reporting and analysis. The views expressed in the article are those of 
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Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan to visit US

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will leave here on Thursday on his first visit to the United States after assuming office in May 2016.
The Chief Minister's office on Wednesday said the Marxist leader would attend several functions in  the US and return on July 18.
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Four Orthodox Church priests in Kerala booked for rape

The Kerala Police's Crime Branch, probing the case of alleged sexual exploitation of a woman by some priests of the Kottayam-headquartered Malankara Orthodox Church, on Tuesday registered an FIR against four priests on the victim's complaint.
Inspector General of Police S.Sreejith, who led the probe team, said that the FIR charging the four priests with rape has been filed, while clarifying on the number of the accused.
"It was true that in the initial news reports there were five priests, but in her complaint, only four of them have been named," he said.
He said that the woman will now be asked to give a statement before a magistrate and then again the probe team will sit to decide the next course of action.
"At the moment, arrests of the four might not happen, as there are formalities and procedures to be undertaken," Sreejith added.
On last Friday, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra ordered a Crime Branch probe into this case on the allegations made by the victim's husband, who belongs to the same church.
An online portal had first reported the story last week, following which tremendous pressure from several quarters, especially social media users, mounted on the Church, which then announced an internal probe.
The husband has said one of the priest who first exploited his wife was blackmailing her. When she sought help from another priest, he too, threatened her and shared her contact with another fellow priest and in the end, she came under the duress from at least five priests.
The Kerala Police started its probe after the National Commission for Women took suo motu cognisance of the case and wrote to Behra, directing him to investigate the matter.
With the FIR getting registered, the ongoing probe by a commission of the church might turn out to be infructuous.
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Dileep row: 14 actresses say no to joining 'unfair' AMMA

Malayalam film actor Dileep
Malayalam film actor Dileep
As many as 14 actresses on Sunday said they will not join the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) as it lacks any fairness, a week after the members of the association revoked the suspension of actor Dileep, accused of kidnapping an actress.
The 14 active members of the recently-formed Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) took the decision even as superstar Mohanlal, who heads AMMA, said on Saturday that there was no vested interest in taking back Dileep.
Also, two Kannada film bodies -- the Kannada Film Industry and the Film Industry for Rights & Equality -- on Sunday wrote to AMMA expressing their displeasure in the manner in which Dileep's suspension was revoked.
In a Facebook post, the actresses, including Amala Akkineni, Archana Padmini, Divyaprabha, Sajitha Madathil and Jolly Chirayath, wrote: "It has been a year since the WCC was formed by women from various facets of the Malayalam film industry and we decided to become members as we knew the issues of women will be addressed by WCC.
"We decided not to take membership in AMMA because when there is no pay parity between males and females in the industry, all have to pay an entry membership fee of Rs 1 lakh which is not justified.
"It has become difficult to believe the organisation, given their stand towards the victim in the actress kidnap case... besides it's tough to go forward with any sort of meaningful discussion on women issues." 
The actresses said that after realising that there is nothing positive in the horizon, "as no meaningful discussion can take place because it's caught between certain groups, fans associations and it fails to have a humane approach towards issues concerning women, we are unable to take membership in AMMA".
The WCC has been vocal about the issue since last Sunday when the annual general body meeting of AMMA decided to revoke the suspension of Dileep ordered last year, saying it did not follow the guidelines of AMMA.
Earlier, Rima Kallingal, Remya Nambisan and Geetu Mohandas, all of whom are leading lights in the Malayalam film industry, resigned from AMMA.
This was followed by actresses Revathy, Padmapriya, and A. Parvathy writing to AMMA General Secretary Edavela Babu, demanding an emergency executive meeting of AMMA on July 13 or 14.
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4 Malayalam actresses resign from AMMA over Dileep row

Malayalam film actor Dileep
Malayalam film actor Dileep
The row over the reinstatement of accused actor Dileep into an artistes body took a turn on Wednesday with four leading actresses, including the kidnap victim, resigning from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA).
Dileep is an accused in the February 2017 actress kidnapping case which took place in Kochi, that landed him in a Kerala jail for 85 days.
Those who have decided to resign include the victim, besides Rima Kallingal, Remya Nambisan and Geetu Mohandas, all of whom are leading lights in the Malayalam film industry.
The decision to resign was posted in the official Facebook site of the newly formed Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), led by Dileep's former wife Manju Warrier.
The WCC had earlier also expressed its displeasure, soon after Dileep was reinstated at the annual general body meeting held in Kochi on Sunday.
The victim in the kidnapping case noted in the post: "In the past when this star had thwarted to keep me away from films by denying opportunities to me, I did approach the organisation, but no action came up. 
"And now when I have gone through very tough times, the organisation appears to be protective of this person and hence I feel there is no point in being a member of this organisation."
Remya Nambisan wrote that she has no other way but to resign from AMMA as it has taken the most irresponsible decision with regards to the trials and tribulations faced by her co-actress.
"AMMA has taken a very inhuman stand against my actress colleague and hence I am resigning...," said Nambisan.
"I feel I should have resigned long back because AMMA does not want any member to question their decisions. I cannot stand such acts again...," said Geetu Mohandas, a former executive member of AMMA.
Rima Kallingal in her post said: "I decided to resign for the upcoming generation who will be able to pursue their profession without making any compromises." 
Late thespian actor Thilakan's daughter, Sonia Thilakan also slammed AMMA for having different standards for Dileep and her father, who was suspended in 2010 for criticising AMMA.
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Kerala allots land to Nissan for digital innovation hub

The Kerala government on Tuesday allotted 70 acres of land at the Technocity campus and 25,000 sq feet space at the Technopark campus here to Japan's Nissan Motors to set up a digital innovation hub.
This campus will be named the "Nissan Knowledge City". Their other hubs are located in Japan, China, France and the US.
The company will initially begin operations in 25,000 sq ft space in the Technopark Phase III campus.
Nissan's digital innovation hub will host a team of engineers and scientists, working to create innovations in automated and electronic vehicles space.
The company will be initiating research and development work in artificial intelligence, cognitive analytics, machine learning and other digital technologies.
On setting up operations, the company is expected to generate 3,000 direct and many more indirect employment opportunities.
"With Nissan's strategic engagement, we are confident that we will be able to rope in a host of IT companies also to our state," said Technopark CEO Hrishikesh Nair.
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Using policemen for personal work won't be allowed: Kerala CM

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday made it clear that senior police officials won't be allowed to use policemen for their personal work.
Vijayan made the remarks in the Assembly in reply to a submission by Congress legislator K.S. Sabarinath. 
Vijayan pointed out that this practice first began during the British Raj and still prevailed seven decades later.
"The matter is now being seriously looked into. Strict action will be taken," said the Chief Minister.
"The basic human rights of all people will be protected and we promise that the state government will not tolerate any violation."
Around 2,000 policemen are currently deployed by officials at their homes, and often they end up doing menial work.
Additional Director General of Police Sudesh Kumar, the chief of the Kerala Armed Police Battalion, was shunted out on Saturday following complaints of bad behaviour and violation of rules by him and his family members.
It was alleged last week that Kumar's daughter and wife misbehaved with the driver of his official vehicle -- policeman Gavaskar.
Kumar's daughter is accused of abusing Gavaskar and hitting him with her mobile telephone after he reportedly came late to pick them up. He is now warded in the Medical College Hospital.
MLA Sabarinath said Gavaskar and his family hailed from his constituency.
"It has now surfaced that the lady hit Gavaskar seven times with her mobile under his eye and on his neck... It was only after 10 hours that the police took a statement from him while the police went and took her statement first," he said.
Vijayan told the Assembly that that a Crime Branch officer was probing the case.
"There will be no undue delay in the probe," he added after Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the case should not be allowed to drag on indefinitely.
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Tempers run high at Congress' Kerala meet over 'gifting' of Rajya Sabha seat

File photo of K M Mani
File photo of K M Mani
Tempers ran high at the meeting of Political Affairs Committee of Congress' Kerala unit here on Monday over the manner in which a Rajya Sabha seat which should have gone to the party was "gifted" to the Kerala Congress-Mani which returned to the Congress-led UDF after nearly two years.
The most vocal in the meeting turned out to be outgoing Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien, who was aiming for a fourth successive term in the upper house, but accused former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy of scuttling his chances.
The lone seat which the Congress could have won, based on its strength in the assembly, was handed over to Kerala Congress-Mani and the ire of Kurien and a section of the committee was that this issue was not discussed in the committee, but Chandy, along with Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and state party president M.M. Hassan themselves decided about it and briefed Congress President Rahul Gandhi about the need for gifting it.
Another who went hammer and tongs against Chandy was P.C. Chacko, who was an aspirant for the seat, after young legislators last month voiced their stand that the seat should not be given to Kurien, as he has had a long innings in parliament.
While Chandy was absent, as he had left for Andhra Pradesh on his first visit after he was appointed General Secretary in charge of the state, where Congress is literally wiped out, Chandy's close aides including Benny Behanan and P.C. Vishnunath strongly defended their leader, citing his wide support base extending throughout the state and popularity. They asserted that if there is any hidden agenda to attack him, then they will not sit idle.
Chandy, before leaving for Andhra Pradesh, told the media that he has urgent business there and is not able to participate in the meet, but said Chennithala and Hassan would explain what happened.
V.M.Sudheeran, the immediate past president of the party was another one who found fault in the troika and said this should never have happened.
Chennithala however told the meeting that henceforth all important matters before a decision is taken would be discussed in the committee and agreed that they had erred in not taking the committee into confidence on the matter.
The issue is also likely to surface in the party executive's meet on Tuesday and there too sparks are bound to fly.
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Kareem, Binoy and Jose file RS nomination from Kerala

Two ruling Left coalition candidates and one from the Congress-led opposition on Monday filed nomination papers to the three Rajya Sabha seats that fall vacant in the state from July 1.
Those who are retiring include Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien, Joy Abraham of Kerala Congress (Mani) and C.P. Narayanan of the CPI-M.
With none of the retiring members getting renomination, veteran CPI-M leader and former state minister Elamaram Kareem and his then cabinet colleague (2006-11) and senior CPI leader Binoy Viswam filed their nomination before the Kerala Assembly Secretary.
Present on the occasion were Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, his cabinet colleagues and CPI state Secretary Kanam Rajendran.
In the afternoon, Jose K. Mani, the Kottayam Lok Sabha member and son of veteran legislator K.M. Mani, filed his papers in the company of former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala and other UDF leaders.
Surprisingly, K.M. Mani was absent when his son filed the nomination papers.
With no other candidate in the fray, there will be no voting and on June 14 the three candidates will be declared elected.
Hitting out at the Congress-led UDF, State CPI-M Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that if the Congress had the guts, they should see that a bye-election to the Kottayam Lok Sabha seat takes place.
"The electorate in Kottayam elected Jose K. Mani for five years and with almost 11 months left, he has run away and in the process close to Rs 7 crore of development work that should have come through his MP fund into the Kottayam constituency has been wasted," he said.
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Mohanlal to become Malayalam film body President

Malayalam superstar Mohanlal will take charge as the new President of the Association of Malayalam Movie Actors (AMMA) later this month.
The development came as veteran actor Mammootty decided to withdraw his candidacy.
On the last day of nominations on Friday, all the main posts got only one nomination each there were 12 candidates in the fray for 11 Executive Committee members.
The election was necessitated after outgoing AMMA President Innocent, also a Left-supported Lok Sabha memberre, resigned from the post after 18 years.
According to an informed source, Mammootty, who was the present General Secretary, sensed that things would not be conducive for him if there was an election.
Edavela Babu was elected the new General Secretary while comedian and character artiste Jagdish was brought in as Treasurer.
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Mani returns to UDF, Congress in ferment over RS seat

File photo of K M Mani
File photo of K M Mani
The Congress party was in turmoil in Kerala on Friday even as estranged ally K.M. Mani returned to the UDF fold after being given a Rajya Sabha seat the Congress could have easily won.
Veteran Congress leader and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson P.J. Kurien blamed former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy for the surrender of the Rajya Sabha seat, a decision which also sparked street protests by young Congress activists in the state.
Kurien told the media in Delhi that he had no grudge against Mani.
"This is the brain work of Chandy who has always had an agenda. At times he comes out with plans to sideline some leaders and at times he comes out with plans to project some others. I was a victim in 2012 also when Chandy opposed my nomination but I got elected," said Kurien.
"This seat, which should have rightfully gone to the Congress, was handed on a platter to Mani. What should have happened was that the Political Affairs Committee of the state Congress should have met and a discussion should have taken place... This never happened."
Congress student and youth wings held protests at a few places in the state to denounce the loss of the Rajya Sabha seat. But none of them criticized the return of Mani to the Congress-led UDF.
Mani, who in 2016 walked out of the United Democratic Front (UDF) ending over a four decade long association, was all smiles on Friday.
Mani said his party had decided to rejoin the UDF and thanked the Congress for giving his party the Rajya Sabha seat.
"The decision on who will be nominated to the Rajya Sabha will be announced shortly," he said, adding that he does not wish to contest.
Mani was beaming as he entered the Cantonment House where a meeting of the UDF was on.
Minutes before Mani's arrival was announced, former state Congress chief V.M. Sudheeran walked out of the meeting expressing his displeasure over the Congress decision.
As the UDF meeting continued, young Congress activists staged a sit-in outside the venue.
Mani said: "We will now all work together to see the resurrection of the UDF."
Chandy, however, told IANS that the decision on giving the Rajya Sabha to Kerala Congress (Mani) was meant to strengthen the UDF.
"Over the years, on two occasions, once in the 90s and again in 2001, the Congress party due to then political needs took the Rajya Sabha seat from Mani... This is a one-time adjustment. The Congress will get the Rajya Sabha seat in 2022," said Chandy.
Kurien alleged that the opposition to his re-nomination to the Rajya Sabha by young Congress legislators was a game plan of Chandy.
He insisted that the Congress High Command had been misled by Chandy.
Those backing the nomination of Mani's party to the Rajya Sabha include Chandy, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and state Congress chief M.M. Hassan besides IUML Lok Sabha member P.K. Kunhalikutty.
On Thursday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi sanctioned Mani's return to the alliance.
An upset Sudheeran told the media that although Mani's return was welcome, the way the affair was handled, minus transparency, had hurt the Congress and UDF workers.
"Those who handed over the Rajya Sabha seat to Mani said it will strengthen the UDF. But actually it will not. In fact the Congress party has been weakened.
"The rank and file of the Congress has been badly hurt. The end result of this illogical decision has set the stage for strengthening of the BJP and that does not augur well," said Sudheeran.
Both the CPI-M and BJP tried to fish in troubled waters.
CPI-M state Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan appealed to Congress leaders upset with the loss of the Rajya Sabha seat to take a stand during the polls to the Upper House. If they do, the Left will take appropriate decisions, he said.
Former state BJP president P.K. Krishnadas invited all disgruntled Congressmen to join his party.
"The doors of the BJP will be kept open to all Congressmen who are unhappy," he said.
Three Rajya Sabha seats have fallen vacant in Kerala. While two of the seats will be won by the Left, the Congress-led UDF is expected to bag the third. 
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Kerala CM's snipe at Congress sparks chaos in Assembly

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Thursday that Congress MLAs were supporting "terror" groups, angering the opposition and leading to chaos in the Assembly.
There was pandemonium as opposition members shouted slogans against Vijayan and the Home Department for failing to protect a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) who was brutally beaten up by the police late on Tuesday soon after landing in Kochi for Ramadan holidays. 
Speaking in the House, which has of late regularly experienced ruckus, Vijayan said "knowingly or unknowingly" certain Congress legislators were supporting "terror" groups.
The curt remark did not go down well with opposition MLAs. Congress member Anwar Sadath went hammer and tongs against the manner in which NRI Usman was beaten up by four policemen, leaving him with a fractured cheekbone.
Vijayan said it had come to light that it was Usman who first hit the policemen.
An angry opposition then trooped to the Speaker's podium shouting slogans against Vijayan.
Vijayan hit back, saying a section of the people think they are above the law of the land.
"I know Alwaye (where the incident took place) very well. None should forget that this was the place where a bus burning terror incident took place sometime back. Among the people who created a ruckus after Usman's arrest were those with 'terror' links. 
"Those who are now making a noise now do not want me to speak. In some way or the other, these people are helping such 'terror' groups," said a visibly angry Chief Minister.
Vijayan also came down hard on Anwar Sadath, who in his speech said that he being a Muslim observing fast was raising the issue.
"What Sadath did by bringing in words like 'fast' and 'Ramadan' is purposefully raising communal passion and that can lead to tensions.
"This is in no way acceptable... Everyone knows what the Left ideology is towards such groups and we never ever have travelled with such groups," added Vijayan.
Following the remarks, the sloganeering rose further, prompting Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan to adjourn the House for the day. 
Wednesday's proceedings also had to be wound up early following a similar protest by the opposition.
Congress leader K.C. Joseph slammed Vijayan for portraying Alwaye in poor light.
The Chief Minister rubbished the insinuation that his Home Department had lost control over the police. "Nothing of that sort has happened. Things are firmly under control. No one should worry." 
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Binoy Viswam is CPI nominee for RS seat from Kerala

Former Kerala Minister and two-time legislator Binoy Viswam was on Tuesday selected by the Communist Party of India (CPI) as its nominee for the Rajya Sabha seat.
Viswam, 63, was the Forest Minister in the V.S. Achuthanandan cabinet from 2006 to 2011. Since then he has not contested any election and has been mostly engaged in party work.
Elections are due this month to elect three new members to the Rajya Sabha. The ruling Left Democratic Front will be able to win two seats and the Congress one, given the number of seats these two rival political fronts have in the 140-member Kerala Assembly.
The CPI-M has started discussions. A key contender for its share of the seat is Cherian Phillip, a former Congress leader and an aide of former Chief Minister A.K. Antony.
Phillip quit the Congress in 2001 and contested as a Left-supported candidate against Oommen Chandy and lost.
The Congress has a problem after strong opposition surfaced against renominating former Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien.
The most vocal opposition to Kurien has come from about half a dozen young Congress legislators who demanded that since Kurien has had a long innings in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, he should pave the way for other Congress leaders.
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Kerala to foot medical bills of all Nipah affected

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday told an all-party meeting here that the government would foot the entire medical bills of all those being treated for the Nipah virus in Kozhikode and Malappuram.
He said that the work done by the state's health professionals in containing the disease's spread after its outbreak was really encouraging and showed their commitment and dedication. This quick containment has not happened in countries where this virus attack had hit in the past, he added.
"What we have found out is that its due to the effective intervention and the work of these health professionals that the spread of Nipah virus has been contained. Now there need be no fear or panic. The state government will bear all the expenses of these patients who underwent treatment for Nipah," said Vijayan.
The Kerala government also decided to distribute special food kits also as Kozhikode turned out to be the worst affected with 13 deaths, while three deaths were reported in Malappuram.
Vijayan also came down heavily on the mischief played by some elements on social media, terming it was most unwarranted and unpardonable.
As of date, of the 18 positive cases, 16 have died and the remaining two are recovering well at the Kozhikode hospital while the around 2,000 people, who have reported to have come in contact with the affected, are being monitored.
Earlier in the day, on the opening day of the assembly session. opposition legislator P. Abdullah from Kozhikode walked into the floor of the assembly wearing a mask and gloves, which invited immediate criticism from Vijayan and Health Minister K.K. Shailaja, who both termed his show an insult to the efforts of the state government.
But intervening in the issue, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that this was done as Abdullah just wanted to express his solidarity with the people of Kozhikode and it was not an insult.
Meanwhile the Veterinary Association has said that they will approach the Central government with a request that they are interested to do an epidemiological study on the outbreak of Nipah in Kozhikode and should receive support.
"This study is a time-consuming one besides involving a substantial sum of money to conduct the study, as each area has to be mapped and detailed studies have to be done. We are willing to do it and for that we need the support," said the association's Mohan Kumar.
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Kerala to reduce fuel prices by Re 1

The Kerala government on Wednesday announced a Re 1 reduction per litre in the price of petrol and diesel from Friday, in a bid to bring some relief to the people hit by rising fuel costs.
Addressing reporters here after the weekly Cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said: "The state government has decided to forego Re 1 from its tax portion and as a result, the loss to the exchequer would be Rs 509 crore in a year.
"We wish to send a message to the Centre that despite pleas from several quarters, it is not doing anything to bring some relief to the people.
"The price of fuel products is rising when international prices are falling. We did this because we wish to show our intent," he added.
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Now Kerala is bringing literacy to tribals, migrant labourers

It has been billed as a state with 100 per cent literacy. But people here know they had an unfinished task. Having actually reached an overall literacy rate of 93.94 per cent, Kerala has now embarked on a programme to bridge the small gap in its achievements by training illiterates among tribals, scheduled castes, transgenders and the migrant labour communities.
Stock-taking of the activities in the past two years of the Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority (KSLMA) revealed that 11,000 students -- mostly from Wayanad and Palakkad districts -- are at various levels of equivalency exams among the tribal community. There are also 5,300 migrant labourers, 2,000 from the scheduled castes and 145 transgenders whose literacy levels are now being raised.
"The main reasons for the programme to have got a good response was because the trainers (teachers) are drawn from these communities themselves, leading students to immediately correlate with them --the oldest of whom is a 90-year tribal woman in Wayanad," Director of KSLMA, P.S.Sreekala, told IANS.
"We have 601 tribal teachers who are supporting us, besides retired teachers and colleges students. We have set out a timetable of 100 hours of classes where the basics of maths and Malayalam are taught to these illiterates and neo-literates. Our aim is to enable them to integrate themselves into the society, wherein they need not feel any sort of complex that they do not know to read or write," said Sreekala.
While the fee for the 100-hour classes till the equivalent 7th is free, students have to pay Rs 1,950 to Rs 2,250 from Class X and above. For SC/ST students it is fully free. With the scheme picking up, the respective local bodies are supporting the students by paying their fees.
Twenty-six-year-old Sunitha, who hails from a tribal settlement at Peringottukunnu in Wayanad district, told IANS that she had just written the 4th equivalency test.
"Our son in the new academic year will be in Class 1 and I am happy that I can teach him to the best of my ability, from what I learned. Before I went for my classes I could not read, but now I am able to slowly read even a newspaper. I now want to attend classes for the next level. I wish to do it because then I will be able to at least guide our son," Sunitha said.
The KSLMA has been supported by successive state governments and for the current fiscal has been allocated Rs 17 crore, up from Rs 15.50 crore in the previous fiscal. Of this, Rs 12 crore has been set aside for the literacy programme.
Speaking to IANS, P.N. Babu, the coordinator of the programme in Wayanad, said that it was a huge experience not just for students but also for the educators.
"There are around 2,975 tribal colonies here and we have touched 300 colonies where we got the students to attend the basic course in literacy. We held classes once a week and everyone who attended has carried the message back to their colonies. Hence, not only are we going to get more students from these colonies but are also starting classes in another 200 colonies," Babu added.
The state is well on its way to be truly called a literate one.
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Kerala seeing advanced demographic transition: Report

Kerala is currently experiencing an advanced demographic transition as the mortality and fertility levels have come down and so migration plays a critical role in shaping the future demographic scenario, said a report released here on Monday.
The report, titled 'Impact of mortality and fertility transitions in Kerala on migration and its implications for state's economy', was put together by a team led by noted demographer S. Irudaya Rajan of the Centre for Development Studies here.
"Kerala was the first Indian state to achieve Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) below 25, in 1989, while the state further reduced the IMR to 10 in 2016. But with an IMR of 34 in 2016, India has a long way to catch up with Kerala," said Rajan.
The study showed that significant strides were also made by Kerala in improving life expectancy at birth.
During 1951-60, the male and female life expectancies at birth for Kerala were 44.2 years and 48.1 years, which advanced to 72.2 years and 78.2 years, respectively, during 2011-15.
"With the significant fall in levels of mortality, the fertility levels have also come down considerably. Kerala was the first Indian state to achieve below replacement level fertility in 1987, while India is yet to achieve this demographic milestone even during 2015-16 while Kerala's Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has further dipped to 1.6," said Rajan.
The combined effect of the reduction in mortality and fertility rates in the state has been a decline in the natural growth rate of the population.
However, the population of Kerala has doubled from 16.9 million in 1961 to 33.4 million in 2011.
In the past six decades since the formation of the state, age-specific growth rates too have significantly declined in line with the overall population growth rates, with an exception of population of 60 years and above.
The study pointed out that negative growth rates were observed in the case of young population (0-14 years) during the past three decades.
Rajan said the mortality and fertility changes accompanied by a host of social determinants facilitated this inward and outward migration.
International migration from Kerala was initially directed towards a few South Asian countries.
By 1960, Keralites found a place in the British colonies such as Malaysia and Singapore, countries in the African region and had also moved to developed countries in North America and Western Europe.
The oil boom in the Middle East triggered heavy migration from Kerala to countries in this region. The number of international migrants peaked during 2013 with 2.4 million migrants from Kerala living outside the country and then declined to 2.2 million in 2016.
During 1961-81, most of the migrants from Kerala moved within India as there was a significant outflow of persons from Kerala to Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and other places.
"As a consequence, there will be a further decline in the international migration from Kerala to the traditional destinations. The ageing of the population and decline in the number of people in the migration-prone age groups are also likely to accentuate this downward trend.
"The rate of growth of Kerala's native population will start declining within a decade or so. The fertility and mortality indicators of the native population have already reached near saturation levels. Migration is the only component that can significantly alter the emerging population scenario in Kerala," said Rajan.
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Adoor Gopalakrishnan says boycotting of National Awards 'understandable'

Veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan says the sentiments of those who boycotted the National Film Awards ceremony as a mark of resentment that the President wasn't handing over a chunk of the honours, are natural and understandable.

Gopalakrishnan, who in his glittering career extending close to five decades, has won 16 National Awards, said here on Monday: "The feelings that they expressed are only natural and are understandable."

"If the President is able to be present for one hour only, then the programme could be held over two days. Everyone would certainly wish to receive the award from the President," added the 76-year-old, who is a Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan awardee.

Last week, President Ram Nath Kovind gave away the awards to just 11 winners, while the rest of those who attended the event received the honour from Minister of Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani.

From among the fairly big contingent of award winners from the Malayalam film industry, veteran playback singer K.J. Yesudas and director Jayaraj, after expressing their displeasure against this decision, went and collected their award.


Two held for rape-murder of Latvian woman in Kerala

Two men were on Thursday arrested on charges of raping and murdering a Latvian tourist who went missing from Kovalam last month, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra said.
Accused Umesh and Udayan are relatives and were working as unregistered tourist guides, the Director General of Police (DGP) told the media. 
Behra cautioned the media against reporting the woman's name since she was a rape victim.
"This is an unfortunately brutal crime and should not happen to any person. An innocent woman, for no fault of hers, lost her life... the police investigation team will be rewarded for their good work," Behra said.
Inspector General of Police Manoj Abraham, who led the probe team, said that the accused will be presented in a court here on Friday for remand.
"The woman was lured away by the accused and supplied with narcotics. She was later sexually assaulted and attacked when she resisted. The probe will continue as we want to find out if there are more people involved in the crime," said Abraham.
A day earlier, the Latvian's sister told the media here that the funeral of the 33-year-old deceased will be performed at the public crematorium here on Thursday and ashes taken to her home country.
She had also met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at his office.
The victim, her partner Andrew and Ilzie had arrived in Kerala for ayurvedic treatment at a facility on Thiruvananthapuram's outskirts when she went missing on March 14. 
The victim was last seen hiring an auto-rickshaw to Kovalam. She was not carrying her passport or mobile phone with her when she went missing. On April 20, her highly decomposed body was found in a marshy area near the famed Kovalam tourist destination. An autopsy pointed to strangulation.
Once murder was confirmed, police questioned several area residents and had taken four of them in custody. 
State Bharatiya Janata Party President Kummanem Rajasekheran demanded that the body be buried and not cremated just in case another post-mortem was required. 
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Rajnath attends 100th birthday celebrations of Bishop Chrysostom

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh yesterday said religion is a personal choice and should always remain free from any coercion or allurement.
Speaking at a civic reception to honour Bishop Philipose Mar Chrysostom, the emeritus Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, on completion of 100 years of age, Mr. Singh said Prime Minister Narendra Modi runs a government at the Centre which firmly believes in taking every section of society along and building a New India. 
The goal is development with unity and the dream of making the nation great again could be realised only when the people of India stand united, he said.
The Home Minister said that India has been united not because one religion or some theological thought held the political power or exercised control over the system. 
"This great nation is united because it provides space to peaceful coexistence of multiple thoughts and theologies. The problems faced by this country had always been addressed through a unique interplay of ideas and the biggest living proof of this interplay of ideas is our Constitution," he said.
Mr. Singh said that the ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’ should be maintained in the country and continue cementing the pillars of united India. He said unity is the country's strength and everyone must work to strengthen the bonds of unity, amity and harmony in society.
"This should be our resolve today when we are celebrating the birth centenary of Mar Chrysostom," he said.
The Union Home Minister said the life and work of Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan is an inspiration not only to the people of Kerala or to the 
"Christian community, but to the entire nation. His life is a shining example of how God can be worshipped through selfless service for the society and the humanity. Mar Chrysostom has endeared himself to all sections of Kerala society through his inspiring words and works. The basic quality of Mar Chrysostom Metropolitan is his attitude of universal goodwill and his concern for the development and wellbeing of the entire community of citizens, transcending any narrow sectarian consideration. Considering his valuable contributions to Indian society for well over six decades, the Government of India has conferred Mar Chrysostom by awarding the ‘Padma Bhushan’ this year. By felicitating him with ‘Padma Bhushan’, the Government has not only shown respect towards him but also recognised his tremendous contribution," he said.
While remaining true to his own faith, Mar Chrysostom has been able to raise himself above all sectarian considerations and divisions. He has motivated all sections of society to love each other for the common good, he said.
Mr. Singh pointed out that Mar Chrysostom is a man of prayer and he also works as a social reformer. His contribution towards the empowerment of weaker sections of society is also noteworthy. He has dedicated his life to God through service of fellow human beings.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan presided over the function. Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Prof. P.J. Kurien, Kerala Minister for Tourism and Co-operation Kadakampally Surendran, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, Lok Sabha Members Shashi Tharoor and V. Muraleedharan (MP), Mayor V.K. Prashanth and a host of other dignitaries were present on the occasion.
Mar Chrysostom, 101, is the longest-serving Bishop in Christendom, having been consecrated as Episcopa on May 23, 1953. He was designated as Suffragan Metropolitan in May 1978.
After Alexander Mar Thoma stepped aside as Metropolitan in March 1999 due to ill-health, he was designated as Officiating Metropolitan. he was installed as Metropolitan on October 23, 1999 when Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan was made Valiya Metropolitan (Senior Metropolitan).
Bishop Chrysostom has served as the president of the National Council of Churches and attended the World Council of Churches at Evanston in 1954 and Uppsala in 1968. He also attended the Second Vatican Council.
He resigned as the head of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church due to ill-health on August 28, 2007. 
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Strangulation caused death of Latvian tourist: Autopsy report

The autopsy report of the Latvian woman, whose decomposed body was found last week after she went missing from Kovalam in Kerala last month, suggests that she was strangulated to death, informed sources said on Saturday.
The Kerala Police investigation team, who were handed over the report earlier in the day, said the autopsy reiterated the police findings that she had been strangulated to death.
It was on Friday that the Kerala Police for the first time said that according to their findings, manual strangulation was the cause of death. They have also recovered a noose made of vines, which is now a crucial evidence for them.
Earlier, DNA test of the highly decomposed body had confirmed that it was of 33-year-old Liga Skromene. The body was also identified by her sister Ilzie and her live-in partner Andrew.
The police, according to informed sources, have taken into custody five men from the Kovalam area who are believed to have befriended Liga. With the scientific report also available with the police, they expect to crack the case in a day or two.
In a related development, the police have begun a probe against Ashwathy Jwala, a known social activist who was all along with Ilzie and Andrew when the two were running from pillar to post to get help from the state authorities.
Jwala was trying to help the two meet Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but despite several attempts he failed to manage an appointment. Also, after their first meeting with state police chief Loknath Behera, he expressed dissatisfaction over the way they were treated.
As Jwala went public with his comments, state Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran slammed him for spreading "half truths" to the media.
According to a complaint made to the state police chief, Jwala collected funds in the name of Liga.
However, Jwala denied the charges, and said he was ready to face any kind of probe.
"I have been into public work for the past five years and this is first instance of a complaint against me. I will deal with this legally. But I am definitely pained over the baseless allegations...," said Jwala.
Ilzie also defended Jwala, saying the charges were false.
Liga, her partner Andrew and her sister Ilzie came to Kerala for ayurvedic treatment at a facility on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram.
She went missing on March 14 and was last reported to have taken an auto-rickshaw to Kovalam. She was not carrying her passport or mobile phone with her.
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Infosys donates Rs 2.50 crore to Kerala hospital

Tech major Infosys has donated Rs 2.50 crore to the Neurosurgery Department of the state-run Medical College hospital, here.
The money was used to install a brand new neurosurgery dedicated operating microscope, replacing a two-decade-old one.
Speaking to IANS, P. Anil, Head of Department Neurosurgery, said that Infosys answered to a request he had made in 2017.
"I took a chance and I wrote to Infosys if they can come to our help. It was a year back. Soon they responded and after they undertook a brief study of our activities, they decided to help us," he added. 
"In between there were some issues with regards to GST but finally the equipment has been installed. We have already put it to use in the first case, a few days back," said Anil.
Anil said the new device has come as a huge boon to the patients who mostly come from poor background.
The Thiruvananthapuram Medical College hospital has the most crowded casualty department with accident cases coming for expert and quick treatment.
Speaking to IANS, Sunil Jose, a top official attached to the Infosys unit here, said their company always has set aside money as part of the corporate social responsibility programme.
"Our studies found out that the department provides yeomen services to accident victims and most of the patients came from the low and middle income category.
"In this microscope project, we started working on it as soon as we got the proposal from the Neurosurgery Department. We felt that they are doing a good job and sanctioned it," said Jose.
Incidentally this is not the first time that Infosys have helped the hospital. They had built a sky walk connecting the major building after finding out that patients were being moved in stretchers through the road. 
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Kerala's KASE aims to boost blue-collar job acceptability

Many in Kerala look down upon blue-collar jobs even though thousands of Keralites do such jobs abroad and elsewhere in India. To get rid of this perception is the primary objective of state-owned Kerala Academy for Skills Excellence (KASE), said a top official.
Blue-collar jobs primarily include electricians, plumbers, carpenters, traditional craftsmen, refrigeration and air-conditioning mechanics, those involved in wall and floor tiling, bakery and restaurant services, florists and others.
Aiming to skill the young workforce of Kerala, as also elevate their skills to global standards, KASE promotes, establishes, sets up, monitors, governs and regulates institutions and academies.
Talking to IANS, KASE Director Sriram Venkitaraman, a young doctor-turned-bureaucrat, pointed out "the day the perception towards blue-collar jobs in our state changes, Kerala will have no reason to look back".
"If one goes to the Middle East, we can see Keralites happily working at such jobs; but that's not the case here.
"Our aim is to see that we change this perception and for that we have already started equipping all such people with additional skills. If things go as planned, all such workers will soon be making a beeline not just to Middle East but to other parts of the world as we have a huge population of the youth seeking jobs," said Venkitaraman.
He said they have started to tap into the industrial training institutes -- 91 in the government sector and 450 in the private sector -- where more than 60,000 youth who have completed school education join annually.
"We had been to Singapore, which currently is the world leader in training students in these trades.
"We will soon enter into an agreement with the Singapore government which will be our knowledge partner to turn our ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes) into state-of-the-art institutes. For this, the state government has worked out a budget of Rs 800 crore, of which, in the first phase, Rs 228 crore would be allocated," he said.
Venkitaraman, who has travelled all over the world, pointed out that in the West, blue-collars workers are respected and this attitude is what he plans to bring to India.
As part of its strategy, KASE has, in the past few months, been conducting zonal and district-level competitions aimed at identifying and training the youth to participate and win medals at the World Skills Competition that is scheduled to be held in the city of Kazan in south-western Russian in 2019.
"We ran a competition where we had just one condition -- that all participants should be younger than 21. A total of 7,500 participants competed to showcase their vocational skills in 20 trades -- 120 of whom have been selected for the state finals to be held at Kochi over three days from April 28.
"Of these, 40 will be selected to represent their state at the national level after which the final selection for Russia would be made," said Venkitaraman.
He said taking part in the state-level finals are electricians, plumbers, carpenters and traditional craftsmen, and the three-day event will be a held on a "massive scale" and will also be open to the public.
"Basically, we want to showcase this event as we feel this could be one way to change the perception that prevails here," he said.
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