Thiruvananthapuram: Opposition Congress and BJP on Wednesday sharpened their attack on the CPI(M)-led Kerala government as an order for payment of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's helicopter ride from the state disaster relief fund kicked off a controversy.
The state government later cancelled the order.
The opposition has alleged misuse of the fund meant for Ochki cyclone relief.
The Congress demanded registration of a corruption case over the matter, while the BJP wanted the Centre to monitor utilisation of the Ockhi cyclone relief fund.
The payment to the tune of Rs 8 lakh was for hiring a private helicopter for flying Vijayan from Thrissur to state capital and back on December 26 for a meeting with the visiting inter-ministerial central team, which had come to assess the damage caused by the cyclone which hit the southern coast of the state on November 29-30 last.
Vijayan, also a CPI(M) polit bureau member, was in Thrissur for attending the CPI(M) district conference.
KPCC president MM Hassan said the attempt to divert the state disaster relief fund (SDRF) was not only an irregularity, but amounted to corruption. He demanded that a vigilance case be registered against the chief minister.
In Kochi, Leader of Opposition in the assembly Ramesh Chennithala said it was a "serious lapse" on part of the government.
"It is a highly condemnable act," he said.
"The Chief Minister's Office says it was not kept in the loop on the issue. If so, then what is the need for such an office?" Chennithala asked.
Kerala BJP president Kummanam Rajasekharan said diverting disaster relief fund was a "heartless" action and a criminal offence.
The chief minister and the CPI(M) cannot absolve themselves now and that it was a "naked misuse of power", he alleged.
Meanwhile, BJP state general secretary M T Ramesh, wrote to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh seeking to monitor the utilisation of Ockhi relief fund, a party release said.
The LDF government also came in for criticism from the Latin Catholic Church, to which most of the cyclone-affected fishermen belong.
Church officials said the controversy was a pointer to the possibilities of Ockhi relief fund getting diverted instead of reaching the deserving persons.
Meanwhile, state Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan said an explanation had been sought from Revenue Secretary PH Kurien, who had issued the order for the payment.
He also said neither he nor his office was aware of the controversial order.
The government, while cancelling the order, had maintained that it was issued without the knowledge of the chief minister or his office.
A statement issued by CMO's office had clarified that the helicopter was hired for Vijayan and other ministers' journey on December 26 for a meeting with the central team.
That was the reason the State Disaster Management Authority issued the order for the payment from the disaster relief fund, it was stated.
Facing opposition heat over the alleged action, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday sought to play down the controversy, saying there was nothing wrong or unusual about it.
He said when the matter came to his notice on Tuesday evening, he had immediately asked the concerned persons to make the payment from the general administration department (GAD).
"There was nothing wrong in the procedure adopted by the government. This is a usual practise," he said addressing a public meeting organised in connection with the ruling CPI(M)'s district conference in Idukki.
Rejecting the charges, Vijayan said such journeys would have to be undertaken by any chief minister and it was a usual practise.
He also sought to turn the tables, saying a former chief minister had taken a helicopter ride to Idukki while in power and the expense was met from the disaster relief fund then. However, he did not name anyone.
"But, I have decided not to use the SDRF. These things happen normally. There was nothing wrong in it," Vijayan said.
He also flayed the statement of BJP that the Centre should monitor the utilisation of Ockhi relief fund.