Mysuru: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and state minister Sa Ra Mahesh's heated exchange of words during the BJP leader's visit to the flood-hit Kodagu district on Friday, marred her otherwise well appreciated offer of central aid to the tune of Rs 7 crores, that was meant to offset criticism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not yet visited Karnataka's devastated coffee heartland that had rendered 5,000 Kodavas homeless, even though the PM had conducted an aerial survey only miles away in neighbouring Kerala.
With the cameras rolling at the district commissioner's office in Mysuru, recording her every move, the minister seemed to have taken offence when district in charge minister Sa Ra Mahesh requested her to conclude her meeting with the victims, as officials involved with rehabilitation work were waiting for her. “I follow the minister in charge! Central minister follows the minister in charge here! Unbelievable! I don't know if you are aware of protocol while dealing with Union minister. This is for the first time, a Union minister has to listen to a State minister. You have a list of minute-to-minute for me to follow. I am following the minister in-charge and the itinerary,” she said, in an inexplicable outburst, barely holding on to her temper.
When told that the cameras were recording her, she said “Let them record it if they want.” Mrs Sitharaman is the Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka. Speaking to Deccan Chroncile, Kodagu district Minister Sa Ra Mahesh claimed that Union Minister Ms Nirmala Seetharam was angry with him during her visit to Kodagu as he tried to speed up her meetings. He said, “While officers waited for Union Minister Ms Nirmala Seetharam to end her meeting, which was going on for a long time, the meeting with rehabilitation officials was delayed as Union Minister met BJP leaders and others. Since officers had to rush back to the field on emergency rescue and relief works, I tried to convey her to meet the officers first and meet BJP party leaders later. That's when Union Minister Ms Seetharam got angry with me."
" While Ms Nirmala Seetharam was supposed to visit Kushalnagar and then Madapura, her visit to Kushalnagar then was suddenly cancelled. We are not aware of the reason for the sudden cancxellation,” he added. Kodagu district administration sources told Deccan Chronicle that the Union Minister 's visit to Madapura was on the 'protocol' list, but officers were unaware of the reason for the cancellation of her visit to Kushalnagar. Mr Mahesh also dubbed Mrs Sitharaman's comments a reaction to the demand for funds from the centre to Kodagu. "She would have known the pain had she contested election by standing with the electorate, going to every house, meeting voters and asked their problems. She has been elected to Rajya Sabha from Karnataka," he told a TV channel.
The district in-charge minister said the state had requested her to ask the centre to extend relief for Kodagu just like it did for Kerala. The torrential rains that lashed the district last week has left a huge trail of destruction and claimed at least 17 lives. More than 5,000 people have been rendered homeless.. Defence minister Ms Nirmala Seetharam promised to provide Rs 7 Crore through defence institutes (through Corporate social responsibility funds of public undertaking of defence – defence products manufacturing units) of Karnataka, and Rs 1 Crore from her MP funds, for the flood affected people of Kodagu.
Ms Niramala Seetharam who arrived at Kodagu on Friday visited affected areas including Madapura, Hattihole and, interacted with victims at Sevabharathi and Mythri hall in Madikeri. She held a meeting with officers and took stock of the situation. Later speaking to media persons, she said, “Union government has given its necessary assistance in rescue operations. A team from Union government will visit Kodagu to assess the extent of damage and losses. And based on the report from the team, Union government will extend all its support in relief and restoration measures too. We will discuss on the Kodagu disaster with Prime Minister and Home minister too. We will inform Union transport minister on the damages caused to the roads too. Union government will join hands with State government, Kodagu district administration, local MP, MLAs and will assist in relief and restoration measures,” she said.
She informed, “while few districts of coastal Karnataka were hit by incessant rains causing loss of life and property in the past few days, defence forces were requisitioned to aid the civil administration in rescue and relief operations from 18 of this month. One column of Indian army with 50 members from Dogra regiment, one column army engineering task force with 75 members, 12 surface rescuers with rafts from Indian navy, were deployed at Mukkodlu and Kaalur in Kodagu district. In three days during the peak of calamity, these forces alone have rescued nearly 504 people. Also they have constructed two temporary bridges at Mukkodlu and Kaalur. We have consented to deploy technical team of border road organisation to assist the State government in the road restoration in Kodagu district,” she said. “The extent of damage is so huge that it takes time for restoration, so district administration is taking up emergency works based on the need on priority,” Ms Seetharam said.