Thiruvananthapuram | Utter chaos prevailed in the Kerala Assembly today with the Speaker’s podium being vandalised and members of the opposition and ruling benches coming to blows and in the din Kerala Finance Minister K M Mani managed to present his record 13th budget. The MLAs also engaged in a scuffle with the watch and ward staff leading to injuries to several persons.
The House virtually turned into a battlefield with the opposition trying all means to prevent Mani, facing bribery allegations in the ‘bar case’, from presenting the budget. Mani alongwith several of his cabinet colleagues had stayed back in the Assembly complex last night as the Opposition threatened to block his way to the Assembly. LDF has called for a dawn to dusk hartal tomorrow in protest against the alleged attack on their MLAs, including women and their cadres outside the House.
The agitation of the LDF and that of Yuva Morcha, BJP’s youth wing outside the house also turned violent in many places with police resorting to lathi-charge, bursting tear gas shells and using water cannons to disperse angry crowds, which burnt a police jeep.
A 64-year-old CPI-M supporter, who took part in the protest organised by the LDF, collapsed and died at the venue of the protest near Assembly complex in the morning, police said.
Terming today’s developments in the House as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unfortunate’, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said UDF will observe March 15 as ‘Black Day’. The Left front MLAs had committed a ‘serious offence’ by trying to prevent Mani from presenting the budget by force and any action to be taken would be decided later, Chandy told reporters here.
A jubilant Mani said he was happy to be able to present the budget overcoming the opposition obstacles. He was only saddened that he could not offer prayers at the church before presentation of the budget which was his usual practise.
With great difficulty I could perform the constitutional responsbility. The opposition had said there would be bloodshed in the House. But I could present the budget without any such thing, he said.
CPI-M veteran and Opposition leader, V S Achutanandan charged that no assembly procedures had been followed in the presentation of the budget and LDF members would abstain from participating in the budget discussion in the coming days.
Speaker N Sakthan said 20 watch and ward personnel, including Chief Marshal, were injured, while LDF leaders said 20 of their MLAs, including four women, sustained injuries.
LDF had organised a siege both inside and outside the Assembly to prevent Mani from presenting the budget.
Before the session began at 9am, opposition members first blocked the entrance to the House and some of them also went on a rampage damaging Speaker’s podium.
Braving the opposition onslaught, Mani managed to give the protestors the slip and entered the House and read out some portions of the budget as ruling front MLAs and watch-and-ward staff threw a strong protective cordon around him.
The situation worsened as members of the two fronts literally came to blows with a woman member, Jameela Prakasham (JDU) allegedly biting a Congress MLA, Sivadasan Nair when he obstructed her path.
Nair later told reporters that he was bitten by the MLA and showed the injuries on his right upper arm. Jameela complained that she was humiliated with a Congress MLA calling her by caste name.
As temperatures rose in the House, CPI MLA Bijimol and K Lathika (CPI-M) were seen getting atop a table in an effort to break the cordon of the watch and ward staff around Mani. Another Marxist MLA, V Sivankutty, also on top of another table, tried to kick a watch and ward staff, who stopped him from getting near Mani.
As the time approached for the budget presentation, some of the senior LDF members sat on the podium and shouted inquilab zindabad and scuffle started when watch-and-ward staff tried to evict them from the podium.
A free-for-all ensued between LDF members and security personnel at the podium as leaders including K Kunjahmed, E P Jayarajan, James Mathew, T V Rajesh and V Sivankutty threw the Speaker’s chair and damaged loud speakers, computers and lights..
Mani’s presentation of budget ended within 10 minutes after which jubilant UDF members raised slogans in support of the Finance Minister and some were seen distributing sweets. In the commotion, some LDF members including senior CPI(M) leader and former minister Thomas Isaac fell down on the dais. The situation remained tense for some more time with the LDF members protesting in the well of the House.
Chandy and his cabinet members had arrived in the Assembly well before the budget presentation. Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan and Deputy Leader of the opposition Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, both CPI(M), were seen watching the developments without interfering.
LDF and Yuva Morcha were on the warpath demanding Mani’s resignation and insisted that the Minister, whose name figured in the vigilance FIR in the bar bribery scam, should not be allowed to present the budget.
Newly elected assembly speaker N Sakthan said the unruly incidents in the House, including the damage to the Speaker’s podium, had not happened in the history of the Kerala Assembly.
He said he held a meeting of floor leaders of LDF in the morning in which Achuthanandan was also present and had sought their cooperation for the presentation of the budget. But they categorically stated that they would do everything possible to prevent Mani from doing so, he said.
As it was my responsibility to ensure that the budget was presented today in the House, the watch-and-ward staff was called in, the Speaker said.
Tension mounted in the state capital since last night after LDF warned the Congress-headed UDF government that they would go to any length to prevent Mani from presenting the budget even as Chandy made it clear that Mani would present the budget as he had the constitutional right for it.
Sensing trouble, the entire assembly complex area had been cordoned off by police with over 2500 police personnel deployed.
The basis of the LDF agitation was that the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had recently registered a case against Mani in connection with the allegations that he had accepted bribe from bar owners to renew liquor licences, which had been denied by Mani and the chief minister.
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