A number of countries have offered aid to help rebuild a rain-battered Kerala, totalling around Rs 740 crore, but India has politely declined all offers. Yesterday, Thailand's Ambassador to India Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi took to Twitter to state the same. "Informally informed with regret that the Government of India is not accepting overseas donations for Kerala flood relief. Our hearts are with you, the people of Bharat," he tweeted.
According to External Affairs Ministry (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation in Kerala through domestic efforts. This is in line with India's disaster aid policy set nearly 14 years ago, in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami that had caused huge loss of life and property damage in Tamil Nadu, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. "We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own and we will take their help if needed," then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had famously declared in December 2004.
And the Centre has since stuck by this policy of not accepting foreign aid, unless India cannot handle the crisis independently. That is why India refused foreign aid during the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, too, when Russia had offered assistance in disaster management.
According to India Today, in a note to the Indian missions, the MEA has asked the envoys to express "appreciation" but point out that early indicators show that India has the "capacity" to meet the requirements of the people of Kerala.
"If a foreign government makes an offer of help, you may kindly express your appreciation for the sincere sentiments and willingness to assist. The initiative shown by the people of Kerala, other states and from Indian citizens from almost all walks of life who have come together in the time of crisis to supplement the efforts of the government machinery maybe highlighted", the note says.
So far, the most generous helping hand has been extended by the UAE - $100 million (Rs 700 crore) - followed by Qatar (around Rs 35 crore) and Sharjah (Rs 4 crore). Even Maldives, despite currently frosty diplomatic ties with India, announced a donation of $50,000 (Rs 35 lakh). This foreign aid, adding up to around Rs 740 crore, could certainly go a long way in helping Kerala, and the state is making no bones about it.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, yesterday, reportedly said that the state government will hold a discussion with the Centre to clear hurdles in receiving foreign aid for Kerala. He further pointed towards the National Disaster Management Plan of 2016 to back his claim. "[It] says if government of another country voluntarily offers assistance as a goodwill gesture in solidarity with the disaster victims, the central government may accept the offer. Right now only talk is happening, let us see what happens," Vijayan added.
The state's Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has been even more vociferous in his protests. "We asked the Union government for financial support of Rs 2200 crore; they grant us a precious Rs 600 crore. We make no request to any foreign government but UAE government voluntarily offer Rs 700 crore. No, says Union government, it is below our dignity to accept foreign aid. This is a dog in the manger policy," he tweeted recently.
Isaac also cited Chapter 9 of the National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) on International Cooperation which "accepts that in time severe calamity voluntary aid given by a foreign government can be accepted".
The state claims that the situation in Kerala fits the bill. Depending on whom you ask, 6-8 lakh people are stuck in 3,000-5,000 relief camps set up across Kerala. The death toll has crossed 300 and the state has pegged the overall damage at over Rs 21,000 crore. Given the above, the central assistance of Rs 600 crore has not won hearts in the state.
Of course, this is not the only avenue open to Kerala. According to Kumar, contributions to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund and the Chief Minister's Relief Fund from Non Resident Indians, Persons of Indian Origin and international entities such as NGOs and foundations are welcome. The expat Indian community in the UAE - a big chunk of who have roots in Kerala - have already announced generous donations.
In addition, several states - not just the biggies like Maharashtra, UP and the Southern states, but also Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur - have reportedly also pitched in with financial aid.
With PTI inputs