A massive controversy has erupted between the Centre and the Kerala government over the Rs 700 crore offer of assistance made by the government of United Arab Emirates (UAE) towards relief and rehabilitation following the devastating Kerala floods.

While the Kerala government has been saying it needs the funds given the humongous loss of everything from agricultural land to civic infrastructure, the Centre rejected UAE’s offer on Wednesday citing “existing policy”.

“The government of India deeply appreciates offers from several countries to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tragic floods,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in response to queries.

“In line with the existing policy, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts,” Kumar said.

The “existing policy” the foreign ministry was referring to dates back to 2004 when the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress took a decision not to accept foreign aid.

Following the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami that year, Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister, had said, “We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own and we will take their help if needed.”

Reacting to the Centre’s decision on Wednesday, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac tweeted that Chapter 9 of National Disaster Management Plan states that aid from a foreign country can be accepted in times of severe calamity.

 

Kerala floods, Rs 700 crore, Kerala aid, UAE
Men carry food and water aid distributed to those stranded by floods in Pandanad in Alappuzha District in Kerala on 21 August 2018. (Photo: AFP PHOTO / MANJUNATH KIRAN)

 

He demanded that the government should compensate Kerala if it is unwilling to accept UAE’s offer of assistance.

“We asked Union Gov for financial support of Rs 2200 Cr ; they grant us a precious Rs 600 Cr . We make no request to any foreign gov but UAE gov voluntarily offer Rs 700cr. No, says Union gov , it is below our dignity to accept foreign aid. This is a dog in the manger policy,” tweeted Isaac.

 

Addressing reporters at a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that his government will “initiate high-level discussions, if needed, with authorities at the Centre to enable the fund- transfer from the UAE govt in the wake of deluge in Kerala”.

“As soon as this (UAE) aid was announced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that this was an indeed welcome gesture.

“Now with media reports, if need be, we will speak to the Prime Minister,” he said adding that the UAE “cannot be considered any other nation”.

“Indians, especially Keralites, have contributed immensely in their nation building,” he said.

The UAE is home to around 2.8 million expatriate Indians, most of who hail from Kerala. Apart from the UAE, Qatar has offered Rs 36 crore and the Maldives Rs 35 lakh as financial aid to Kerala.

Former foreign secretaries, too, commented on the aid controversy.

“True that as country we can give rather than take assistance,but 80% of Indians in the Gulf are Malayalis. Offer of flood relief assistance from region must be treated with sensitivity. Saying no is simple, but for Kerala-in-crisis, it’s not so simple,” tweeted Nirupama Menon Rao.

 

Nirupama Rao
(Photo: Twitter/@NMenonRao)

 

Responding to her tweet, Shivshankar Menon, who had also served as the National Security Adviser to Manmohan Singh, said, “If memory serves, the 2004 decision was to not accept foreign participation in relief but accept it for long term rehabilitation  case by case. No rescue teams needing hand-holding and interpretation but yes to help rebuilding houses, bridges, roads etc. A way forward for Kerala?”

 

Two former Congress Chief Ministers, AK Antony and Oommen Chandy, have urged the Modi government to rewrite rules so that financial support from abroad could be accepted.

Floods caused by incessant rains in Kerala have killed 370 people so far and displaced millions.

Vijayan on Wednesday said the numbers of homeless sheltered in over 3,314 camps in the state has risen to 1.2 million.

There were no rains for a second day in Kerala. Thousands returned to their flood-hit homes to clean up and start life anew. But many more were simply dazed on seeing what remained of their homes.

“Today there was none to be rescued. It shows that our first phase of operations – rescue – has been successful,” he said.