Who is responsible for Killing 30 Tourists? Cheriyan Philip or Kodiyeri Balakrishnan?

published on October 23, 2009

Feud in CPM spills into boat accident case

VR Jayaraj | Thiruvananthapuram

Cheriyan Philip, chairman of the State-run KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation), has told the police that the corporation had nothing to do with the tendering process, manufacturing contract or commissioning of Jalakanyka, its boat that capsized on Thekkady lake on September 30 killing 45 tourists on board. He said all this was done by the Department of Tourism.

The statement by Philip given to the Museum Police, Thiruvananthapuram, in a case regarding the boat tragedy, which was being monitored by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, would lead to a conflict between the KTDC and the Department of Tourism looked after Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a Politburo member of the CPI(M).

The report of the investigation into the boat tragedy by the Crime Branch of the Kerala Police – under Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who was the Home Minister as well – had put most of the blame for the accident on the KTDC. Observers are of the opinion that the CB’s efforts to blame the KTDC and Philip’s bid to nail the Tourism Department was proof of the reflection of a feud in the ruling CPI(M) on the boat tragedy.

Philip told the police that it was the Tourism Department which had invited tenders for the boat and had awarded the contract for manufacture to the Chennai-based company. Jalakanyaka had not been built as per the decision of the board of directors of the KTDC, he said.

The KTDC chairman said that he had never interfered in the day-to-day affairs of the corporation. His role in the corporation was limited to matters related with policies, he said. He also told the police that he, as chairman of the KTDC, was in no way responsible for the Thekkady tragedy.

According to observers, the position adopted by the KTDC chairman with respect to the boat accident could cause some severe headache to the Home and Tourism Minister. Allegations are already there to the effect that Kodiyeri is using the Crime Branch under his command to put the accident’s blame on the KTDC so that the Tourism Department would be safe.

The probe report on the accident presented by Inspector General (CB) to DGP Jacob Punnoose can be seen as a justification for this argument as it has blamed the KTDC for every fault in the boat and its commissioning. It is also reported that the CPI(M) group led by secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has guaranteed protection to Cheriyan Philip, despite the fact that he is chairman of a corporation that comes under Kodiyeri’s department.

In the aftermath of the Thekkady accident, a demand had come up in the CPI(M) for the resignation of Cehriyan Philip as KTDC chairman. Though majority of the members in the State party secretariat supported the proposal, a very strong minority headed by Pinarayi Vijayan had opposed it. This was then interpreted as a sign of the escalation in the cold war between Pinarayi and Kodiyeri, two Politburo members from Kannur.

Immediately after the accident in Thekkady on September 30 evening, Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan had drafted a ministerial team to the tourist destination to supervise the search-and-rescue operations and to coordinate assistance for the survivors and relatives of the victims, but Thomas Isaac, Finance Minister, was the first to reach there. He was not part of the ministerial team that Achuthanandan had constituted.

Observers had then said that Isaac was sent there by none other than Pinarayi Vijayan, in a clever move to outrace Kodiyeri in taking charge of the operations in Thekkady, despite the fact that the accident was primarily his worry as he was the Minister for Tourism.

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