Kerala Governor reads out remarks against central farm laws in policy address to assembly; Opp UDF boycotts

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(Eds: Incorporates related story, adds details) Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 8 (PTI) The budget session of the Kerala Assembly began on a stormy note on Friday as opposition UDF staged a protest against Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan over dollar the smuggling case and boycotted the policy address by Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, who flayed the contentious central farms laws.

Sticking to the policy address of the CPIM-led LDF government, Khan read out in full the remarks against thefarm laws, against which the assembly had passed an unanimous resolution on December 31.

In his twohour and ten minutes-long address, he also attacked the central investigating agencies, probing various allegations against the state government programmes, saying they have 'overstepped the constitutional contours'.

As Khan began his address, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) members, who came with banners and posters, raised slogans against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the Speaker levelling various allegations.

They demanded the resignation of the Speaker, facing some allegations in connection with the dollar smuggling case in which his assistant private secretary K Ayyappan was questioned by the Customs in Kochi on Friday.

Customs sources said Ayyappan was summoned to cross examine evidence it had gathered on alleged involvement of some 'powerful persons' in the case.

Despite the sloganeering, the Governor began on time the customary address which detailed the achievements and performances of the lone Left front government in the country in its over four-and half-year tenure.

A visibly irritated Khan asked the opposition members thrice to allow him fulfill his Constitutional duty, but his plea fell on deaf ears.

'I am doing my constitutional duty...it is expected that no obstruction will be created while the Governor is performing constitutional duties. You have already raised enough slogans...Don't interrupt me,' he said.

Referring to the protest by farmers against the new laws, he said 'These agrarian laws will undermine regulated markets, result in eventual demise of minimum support price and tilt the balance of bargaining power definitely in favour of corporate middle men.' Being a consumer state, Kerala was also going to be 'affected adversely' by the Essential Commodities Act amendment and resultant hoarding and profiteering, he said.

On central agencies, he said 'Actions of certain central government agencies have overstepped the constitutional contours and are impeding the development activities and flagship programmes undertaken by the state. This has had a demoralising effect on honest and hard-working officers,' the Governor claimed.

Khan also said in such a situation 'co-operative federalism would lose its content and remain only in form'.

Detailing various 'pro-people' measures taken by the Vijayan government, especially during COVID-19 pandemic, he said it started community kitchens for the needy to ensure that none went hungry during the lockdown.

It had been distributing provision kits to ration card holders and providing free treatment to COVID-19 patients.

Khan saidKerala's efforts in containing the pandemic had been lauded globally, adding the government intends to bring down the test positivity rate to five per cent.

'...the efforts taken by my Government have won acclaim across the world. But we do not intend to rest on our laurels.

My Government is fully aware we have an arduous task ahead.

'We have to bring down the test positivity rate to 5 per cent. We have to also bring down the number of new cases reported per day,' he said, in apparent reference to the sharp surge in fresh cases in recent months in the state.

The case fatality rate in Kerala at 0.4 per cent was the lowest in the country, Khan said.

While praising the officials for the smooth conduct of the recent local body polls, Khan said the LDF government was able to get 'renewed confidence of the people'.

The policy address also had references against the Centre's amended Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, against which the state government had taken a strong stand and a unanimous resolution was passed in the assembly.

While presenting his policy address in January last year, Khan had read out references to the anti-CAA resolution passed by the house, after making it clear that he was doing so while disagreeing with it.

On Friday, Khan said the state government was committed to defending the spirit of the Constitution, which is the cornerstone of the democracy.

He said the government has decided to provide supply of essential article kits comprising food grains, pulses among others to all ration card holders which entailed a monthly financial commitment of around Rs 400 crore.

It undertook the mammoth exercise of providing food and essentials to 84 lakh families, Khan said.

He said the government was committed to the welfare of migrant workers in the State and the Department ofLabour and Skills played a very active role in managing their requirements, including food, during the lockdown.

After boycotting Khan's address, the UDF members squatted in the portal of the assembly hall and raised slogans demanding resignation of the chief minister and the Speaker.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala told reporters that it was the first time in the history of the state assembly that the Speaker 'is facing such serious charges.' 'In the last five years, the LDF government had made several promises, but none have been implemented,' he alleged, adding the UDF would continue its protest during the entire session, the last of the present assembly as elections are likely in April-May.

Activists of the Yuva Morcha, youth wing of BJP, also took out a march to the assembly demanding the resignation of the Speaker. Police used water cannons to disperse them.

Lone BJP member O Rajagopal was the only opposition member to sit through the Governor's address. PTI RRT LGK UD VS VS