DMK boycotts Assembly after arguing with Guv, govt assures COVID-19 vaccine for all

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(Eds: Adds details) Chennai, Feb 2 (PTI) The Tamil Nadu Assembly session, a few months ahead of state elections, commenced on Tuesday with the main opposition DMK arguing with Governor Banwarilal Purohit before his customary address to the House, and boycotting the proceedings.

As opposition benches went vacant after leader of opposition M K Stalin walked out of the House with members of alliance parties following suit, Purohit began his speech.

He outlined the action on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic including vaccination, cash assistance to people during lockdown, financial aid to farmers hit by recent cyclones, and the economic front.

Also, Purohit urged the Centre to reject the Mekedatu project proposal of Karnataka and not allow Kerala to build any new dam across River Periyar.

He condemned a recent 'incident' in which four fishermen lost their lives when a Sri Lankan naval vessel deliberately collided with their boat.

The government continued to take proactive measures to bring back 12 fishermen in Lankan custody, he said.

The vaccination drive against coronavirus has been rolled out smoothly in the state and in due course the entire population would be covered so that normal social and economic activity can be fully resumed, he said.

The vaccination programme was being rolled out in phases with health workers now being covered and in subsequent stages, other frontline workers and the most vulnerable would be administered the vaccines, he said.

Appreciating the significant role of police in tackling the pandemic and enforcing the lockdown, he said, 'the police machinery in the state is fully geared to face all challenges, including the orderly conduct of elections to the legislative assembly.' Assembly elections are likely in April or early May in Tamil Nadu.

Earlier, before the Governor could start his address, Stalin tried to raise some issues.

Purohit said the Central budget has allocated Rs 1.03 lakh crore for Tamil Nadu and wanted the main opposition to to take advantage of the session, the last of the current 15th assembly to debate over all issues.

A din ensued, with DMK Deputy leader Duraimurugan and other opposition members joining Stalin, who objected to Purohit making a mention of the union budget allocation and wanted him to stick to his address.

Purohit said DMK may register its protest if it chose to do so, but suggested that its members could 'come back again' to the House.

Members of Congress, ally of the DMK, sported a green headgear -in support of agitating farmers outside Delhi- and they too boycotted the Governor's address.

Stalin told reporters outside the House that his party took a decision to boycott not only the Governor's address but also the entire session.

Purohit did not act on his party's petition against Chief Minister K Palaniswami and his Cabinet colleagues over corruption allegations, he said.

Also, he had put on backburner a recommendation by the Cabinet to free all the seven Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts, the DMK chief said. The boycott decision was taken in view of such aspects, he added.

Purohit said the state attracted an 'unprecedented' Rs 60,674 crore worth of investment and Tamil Nadu received the highest of share of investment proposals, 16 per cent in India during April-September 2020 according to a report.

On cyclones Nivar and Burevi last year, he said the measures taken by the government ensured that the loss of lives and damage to property were minimised.

'A total of Rs 1,715 crore is being disbursed directly to the bank accounts of 16.78 lakh farmers affected by the two cyclones and unseasonal rains in January.' The government incurred a total expenditure of Rs 13,208 crore so far on COVID-19 relief and response measures from its own resources and despite the slowdown in economic growth due to the pandemic, the fiscal situation has been managed deftly.

As part of COVID relief, 19.95 lakh tonnes of additional free rice was supplied to all ration card holders.

Between April-July 2020, commodities -dhal, cooking oil and sugar- were disbursed free of cost to the people and the government bore an additional subsidy burden of Rs 5,402 crore for these measures.

The government's action on recommendations of a high level panel led by former RBI governor C Rangarajan is having a favourable impact on economic growth. 'We are already seeing strong signs of revival in economy.' 'It is a matter of satisfaction that the error that occured in 2017-18 in the IGST allocation between the Centre and the states has been rectified and this year, Tamil Nadu has finally received its dues of Rs. 4,321 crore.' He lauded Chief Minister K Palaniswami for 7.5 per cent reservation for government school students who cleared the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test which has benefited 435 students this year, for the 2,000 Amma Mini Clinics and cyclone relief work.

He commended Palaniswami, the government and frontline workers in combating the pandemic.

Also, he said a new Integrated and Inclusive Public Grievance, Chief Minister Helpline Management System was being established which would integrate all the existing grievance redressal systems through the CM Call Centre helpline.

'With a robust routing mechanism and a dashboard for followup, time bound redressal of all grievances will be ensured. Citizens will very soon be able to access the government from the comfort of their homes by calling the Chief Minister helpline at 1100.' Like the last September session, the House assembled at 'Kalaivanar' auditorium here to ensure more space as part of measures to tackle the pandemic and the Assembly building in the Fort St George premises was not used. PTI VGN SA ROH ROH