Annual grant of Rs.35 lakh announced for conducting the prestigious Nehru Trophy Boat Race

The sparkling waters of the Punnamada Lake on Saturday turned into an allegory of a medicine that drowns all sorrows. People from the rain-ravaged district’s farmland turned up in their thousands to be part of the 61st Nehru Trophy Boat Race, turning it into a spectacle that captured the essence of Alappuzha district.

Ravaged by unprecedented rains, most of the district is under water. But that did not diminish the spirit of the oarsmen or their supporters, who sat through a brief spell of rain and winds on an unusually sunny day for this season of heavy rain.

The entire town was in a celebratory mood with people at several junctions putting up a show to mark the occasion. People were seen dancing to the tune of boatmen’s songs and the rhythmic repetition of the old songs.

Sixty-four boats, including 21 chundans, which are the biggest attractions at the race, were part of the competition. Thirteen Veppu vanchis, four churulans, four thekkanodis and five iruttukuthis participated in the races that were held up by a long-running formal inauguration of the programme.

Governor of Kerala Nikhil Kumar was the chief guest and Ministers V.K. Ebrahim Kunju and Kodikunnil Suresh were among those who spoke.

The guest of honour at the occasion was superstar and Minister of State for Tourism Chiranjeevi, who received a thunderous sound of applause as he stood up to greet the competitors. They had fallen into a file in front of the main podium ahead of a mass drill that marked the beginning of the boat race.

He spoke in heavily accented Malayalam to convey his excitement to be part of the boat race. He said he had a special attachment to Alappuzha and its backwaters as he had shot several of his film sequences here.

Mr. Chiranjeevi said the Union government would provide a permanent grant of Rs.17.5 lakh annually for the boat race, to be matched by an equal sum from the State.

Minister of State for Civil Aviation K.C. Venugopal said the Union and the State governments had agreed to provide Rs.35 lakh each year for the conduct of the prestigious boat race, which had turned into an iconic event for Kerala tourism.

A group of DYFI activists, who made their way into the pavilion where tourists and the VIPs were seated, shouted slogans against Mr. Venugopal ahead of his coming into the area. The police had a tough time restoring order as the protesters were taken away.

The organisers of the inaugural programme also called for a minute’s silence in memory of those who had died in rain related incidents in the State.

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