Kerala seeks PM help on Somali hostage issue; debt package

CM Oommen Chandy said the PM has responded positively to most of the demands put forward by the state, which also included immediate sanctioning of a special debt-relief package.

Kochi: The Kerala government Thursday submitted a 16-point memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, including demand for central government`s help to ensure the early release of Indians kept as hostages by Somali pirates.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the Prime Minister has responded positively to most of the demands put forward by the state, which also included immediate sanctioning of a special debt-relief package, approval for new state government- promoted airline service and relaxation in existing norms for education loans.

Addressing the press at the `Emerging Kerala` investors meet here, Chandy said there are around 12 people from Kerala out of the 32 hostages held by the Somali pirates in that country.

Chandy said there are two types of hostages and one group is being kept in the ship itself and pirates are demanding ransom in return for their release.

Usually, such amounts are paid by the ship owners but in the current case, ship owners are not coming forward, he said.

According to the Chief Minister, another set of hostages are in Somalia and for their release, the demand is the reciprocal release of pirates imprisoned in Mumbai jail.
"There are about 100 pirates in Mumbai jail... Kerala wants the release of hostages even if it means the pirates are to be released from the jail".

He also noted that official explanation that a decision can be taken only after trial of pirates are over is not acceptable to the state.

Regarding package from the Centre, Chandy said the state wanted a debt waiver of Rs 2,975 crore, which was approved sometime ago, but is yet to be implemented.

The state has also sought speedy approval for launching state-run airline `Air Kerala` -- that would primarily cater to Keralites living in the Gulf region.

Kerala has sought exemptions from rules that require atleast five-year experience in domestic services and a minimum of 20 aircraft to start services.

"These norms were relaxed for Air India Express holding that it was a subsidiary of public sector entity Air India. The same relaxation should be given to Air Kerala," Chandy said.

In the proposed airline, state government would have a 26 per cent stake and Chief Minister would be the Chairman.

Chandy has also sought the Prime Minister`s intervention to relax norms for sanctioning education loans in the state, seeking uniformity in interest rates for students.

Another important demand put forward by the Kerala government is changes in the quantity of gold that can be brought into the country by Non-Resident Indians (NRIs).

Currently, NRI men are allowed only to bring gold worth Rs 10,000 per individual while the limit is Rs 20,000 for every woman.

Chandy said that this limit, fixed more than 30 years ago, should be changed. "The government has asked the Centre to relax the same and allow NRI men to carry 50 grams of gold per person while women can bring up to 100 grams per individual," he noted.

According to the Chief Minister, there is also a proposal to set up a medical college for SC/ST students in the state. "In the proposed college, there would be as much as 60 per cent seats reserved for SC/ST," he said and added that Prime Minister sought more time to study the proposal.

The memorandum of demands was submitted to the Prime Minister, who completed his two-day visit to Kerala today.

Regarding `Emerging Kerala`, Chandy said the event was progressing satisfactorily. "We will set up an investment clearance board for speedy, time-bound clearances for proposals that will materialise during the meeting. However, the government will follow all the rules before giving clearances," he added.

"The government plans to give clearances for projects, that do not have any hurdles, within 50 to 90 days," Chandy noted.