Alapuzha: Visiting the flood-ravaged areas of Kerala, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday saluted fishermen who played a key role in rescuing those marooned in the deluge.
Claiming that the fishermen community in the country was facing a crisis similar to that by the farmers, he said if the Congress comes to power at the Centre, a separate fisheries ministry would be set up.
Arriving in Kerala on a two-day visit, Rahul Gandhi spoke to people at relief camps, days after the deadliest deluge in the last 100 years left a trail of destruction and death in the state.
At a reception hosted by the Congress in the worst-hit Alapuzha to honour the fishermen community, Rahul Gandhi said the Coast Guard should make use of the services of fishermen for rescue operations in the future.
"I am proud to say that through all your difficulties... through all your hardships... whenever Kerala needed you... you stood up and gave your best. I salute your commitment to the people of Kerala," the Congress president said.
Three thousand fishermen had saved 70,000 lives in the recent floods, he said.
Alleging that the fishermen community in the country was facing a crisis similar to that by the farmers, Rahul Gandhi said, "The moment the Congress comes to power at the Centre, we are going to set up a ministry of fisheries."
"God's own army will have its own ministry. So your problems can be looked after and your words can be heard at the national level," he said, adding, "I do not want to make fake promises. This is a word of the Congress president."
Along with farmers, fishermen have also helped build the country, Rahul Gandhi said and asserted that it was an "honour" for him to felicitate the fishermen who had saved several lives.
Recalled his last visit to the state in the aftermath of Cyclone Ockhi, Rahul Gandhi said, "I came and visited your houses and I must say looking back, I am not happy for the help you had received for the damage (suffered in the cyclone)."
Earlier, Rahul Gandhi, who arrived in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday morning from the UK, visited relief camps in Chengannur and Alapuzha and spoke to the affected people. He is scheduled to visit some camps in Ernakulam district later in the day and tour Wayanad and Kozhikode districts on Wednesday.
Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted, "President of @INCIndia @RahulGandhi left Thiruvananthapuram this morning for flood-affected areas in central Kerala. His two-day visit will cover districts with the heaviest inundation over the last two weeks (sic)."
In Chengannur, the Congress chief visited relief camps at two colleges and interacted with the people sheltered there.
Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala and Congress' state unit president M M Hassan were among those who accompanied Rahul Gandhi. "Congress President @RahulGandhi meets the flood affected at the Relief Camp at the Engineering College in Chengannur, Kerala #RebuildingKerala (sic)," the party tweeted, attaching photos of Rahul Gandhi meeting people at the camps.
According to data released on Tuesday morning by the Disaster Management's state control room, 474 people have died in the rains and floods since May 29 when the southwest monsoon set in over Kerala....