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Cyclones, coronavirus pandemic deal blow to Puducherry in 2020

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Puducherry, Dec 26: The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to this largely tourism-dependent union territory while it faced nature's fury in the form of back to back cyclones in 2020 that further strained its purse.

cyclone

The UT's top two heads-- Lt Governor Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanasamy continued to spar on administrative matters, including supply of rice and allowing public to take part in the new year eve bash.

As the contagion spread quick and fast, health authorities in Puducherry took every possible step to ramp up infrastructure. A few well-known names from the political circles were among those who fell victim to the virus. The outbreak of the pandemic severely impacted the fiscal position of Puducherry, as the lockdown brought to a halt its largely tourism dependent activities, with little inflow of visitors.

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This prompted the territorial administration to make repeated pleas to the Centre to come to its rescue by allowing grants, as almost all activities came to a halt because of the lockdown. To make matters worse, cyclones Nivar and Burevi contributed their bit of damage to the small UT, forcing the Congress government to once again knock at the doors of the Centre for a relief package.

The differences between Bedi and Narayanasamy were only too apparent and the Lt Governor even skipped her customary address to the MLAs to mark the start of the budget session. The House, however, went ahead with its business and adopted the budget for the fiscal 2020-21 on July 20, envisaging allocation of Rs 9,000 crore.

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Bedi addressed the session on July 24 a few days after the budget was adopted. She had initially insisted that unless she was sent the copy of the budget and also demands for grants, it would not be possible to address the session on its opening day.

Incidentally, in a telling sign of the pandemic,the House met under the shade of a neem tree as the Assembly hall was out of bounds after an opposition AINRC legislator got infected with the virus. The MLA, S J Jayabal later recovered.

However, former MLAs V Balane (AINRC), M A S Subramanian (Makkal Needhi Maiyam) and A Elumalai (Congress) fell prey to the deadly virus. As on Friday, the overall toll from the virus was 629, while the cumulative number of infected was 37,914.

The UT had 349 active cases. If the contagion wreaked havoc on the state's economic health, two cyclones by the end of the year added to the challenges. The Nivar and Burevi cyclones in November-December caused extensive losses in the farm sector, with the government pegging the damage at Rs 400 crore.

Narayanasamy has sought an interim Central relief of Rs 100 crore. On the administration front, the year was no different to the previous ones as the tussle between Bedi and Narayanasamy continued over a number of issues. Most decisions of the local government, including that of supply of rice, turned out to be contentious ones, with Bedi referring them to the Centre for approval.

She also locked horns over the administration's nod for new year bash in the open as well as in hotels amid the pandemic threat. Narayanasamy, while allowing celebrations with COVID- 19 precautions, turned down her plea for banning revelries.

The free rice scheme was sought to be implemented by the elected government by distributing rice through fair rice shops, instead of paying cash through banks to card holders, but Bedi seemed to have a divergent view. The Lt Governor insisted on cash equivalent for quantum of rice in bank accounts of beneficiaries and referred the matter to the Centre, which approved her stand.

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    The ruling Congress' attempt to provide 10 per cent quota for government school students in medical education too ran into rough weather when Bedi once again sent it for the Centre's consideration, saying it was a policy matter. The Narayanasamy-led cabinet had earlier adopted a resolution, seeking to introduce the quota for students from government schools in medical colleges.

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