Kerala floods: The Politics of relief

Kerala Flood

The southern state of Kerala is currently facing the humongous task of rehabilitating its people and rebuilding the state following the worst floods in century that have caused monumental loss of life and property. But currently the centre of discussion is not the massive relief work which needs to be carried out but a huge debate has broken out whether Govt of India should accept the foreign aid of Rs 700 crore offered by UAE for the relief work in Kerala.

Kerala which is known as God’s own country is now looking to get back to its normal life after two weeks of massive flooding. Instead of finding ways to help the victims of the worst ever flood in last 100 years, the offer of relief from overseas countries to Kerala has now occupied the centre stage in federal politics.

In last three weeks, the state has lost over 230 people and suffered losses amounting to over Rs 21,000 crores. The state is presently run by the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is desperately looking for the financial and material support. It has officially sought a relief of around Rs 2, 200 crore from the central Govt, which ridiculously granted a meagre Rs 600 crore.

As per media reports, BJP government is most likely to reject the offer, citing a policy framed by UPA Govt in 2004 when India refused the bilateral aid after the catastrophic tsunami. That time, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that now India is a leading economic power in the world and is quite capable of looking after her people.

According to the experts, there were primarily two reasons behind such a policy. Firstly, the Govt thought that India had come a long way since 1947 and now they are financially in much better shape to handle natural disasters like floods and earthquakes. There was another reason that once they accept aid from a particular country, it will become diplomatically difficult to reject similar offers from other countries which will not be an honourable situation for nation.

This policy was however applicable only for foreign countries and not for the NRIs, NGOs working in the Disaster Management areas or the foreign based charitable organisations. There was no such bar on contributions from such sources and they were free to donate through the remittance route.

The Govt has clearly defined the standard procedure as how to deal with the offer of assistance from abroad and the details were also circulated to all Indian embassies across the world. Our diplomats were specifically instructed to be courteous to the foreign Govt officials and diplomats for their offer of aid, but were also supposed to politely refuse such offers telling them about India’s stated policy against such aids.

Standard templates and government protocols notwithstanding, what Kerala and its people need at this moment is immediate help and it doesn’t matter from where it comes as long as it comes. The top most priority for both the centre and state Govts should be to ensure timely relief and rehabilitation to the flood-ravaged people.

Now talking of whether or not to accept aid from a foreign country, India reportedly has not taken aid from any nation or an International organisation since 2007 and the policy is unlikely to change in the near future. In fact, even during the floods in Uttarakhand and Kashmir, many offers of aid came in from foreign countries but were not entertained.

Let us talk about the section 11 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which mandates the formulation of a Nation Plan and policy framework to govern disaster management in India. In the Paragraph 9.2 of the National Disaster Management Plan, 2016, it clearly says it’s a policy for Govt of India to not issue any appeal for foreign assistance in the wake of a disaster. However, if a foreign Govt voluntarily offers any assistance as a part of goodwill gesture in solidarity with the disaster victims, it may be accepted by the Govt of India.

In the previous cases of natural disaster, the Central Govt was able to meet the relief work solely through its own resources but presently the cash-starved Modi Govt has not even met the existing requirements of the state for flood relief, and is in no position to come anywhere close to the astronomical sum of Rs 20,000 crore which was asked for by the state Govt to rebuild the state’s damaged infrastructure.

Kerala Flood

As per Govt’s own policy, there is no reason to reject the aid offered voluntarily by foreign countries. Even the most powerful nation in the world, United States accepted the foreign aid that came in after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

The amount of relief work required in Kerala is humongous which include almost 10 lakh displaced people, around 50,000 houses which were either damaged or swept away in the flood. It is surprising that on one hand Modi Govt feels it has enough funds to take care of relief work in Kerala but on the other hand these funds are hardly allocated in sufficient amounts.

India has always been on the forefront in giving her share of contribution to the humanitarian works of various UN organisations and there is no shame whatsoever in accepting the same aid when it is facing the similar situation. The guiding principle of international co-operation in the face of huge disasters has always been “one for all and all for one”. India is one country which always provided help when its neighbours have been similarly affected.

Who can forget India’s help to the Govts of Nepal, Pakistan and Iran after they were hit by earthquakes? Even during floods in Bangladesh and Myanmar, India was quick to provide aid and there is absolutely no reason why others shouldn’t similarly extend a helping hand to India.

It’s flawed on the part of our Govt to think that a country like India which has always been an aid-giver cannot become a recipient. It’s always better to be self-reliant but when our own resources are not adequate to meet the enormous requirements of a disaster-struck state; it is both churlish and insensitive for the central Govt to reject aid from those who are voluntarily coming forward.

The Govt needs to understand that there is no policy which can justify such callousness towards our own people. It is time for our Govt to revisit its stated policy to foreign aid in the face of massive natural disaster which is presently experienced by Kerala.

The subject of whether to accept the relief from foreign countries or not is currently the centre of debate in Kerala and across the country. The discussion has become more intense after the offer of aid came from countries like UAE, Qatar, and Maldives. The UAE, which has sizeable number of Malyalese, has single-handedly offered Rs 700 crore to rebuild the state.

uae-kerala

As far as critics are concerned, the Govt of India is fully empowered to accept any relief from an overseas country. As a matter of fact, only three days back, Thomas Isaac, Kerala Finance Minister in his tweet mentioned about chapter 9 of National Disaster Management Plan, relating to the International Cooperation, said that in matters of emergencies like natural disaster, the foreign aid could be accepted.

He further added that if Govt of India holds a contrarian view and rejects such offers, it should see that adequate compensation is given to state of Kerala. UAE wasn’t the only country offering help. There were other countries like Maldives, Qatar and Thailand who were equally enthusiastic about offering monetary support for the relief operations in Kerala.

India is presently not having the best of relations with Maldives but that didn’t prevent it from offering an amount of 50,000 US dollars. Qatar was still another country which came forward for this noble cause and offered 35 crore Rupees.

Thailand also offered to help, although the news didn’t come in media. The Thai ambassador expressed his solidarity with the victims of flood in Kerala and also tweeted about his effort to donate for the relief work which was unfortunately rejected by the Indian Govt.

Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, in an interview to a leading newspaper clarified that it wasn’t he, who approached any foreign country for the financial aid but UAE on its own has offered to help the flood relief work considering its long association with Malyalese who contributed immensely with their skills towards the nation-building of oil-rich country. It’s ironic that after such a natural disaster, the focus should have been on bringing the normalcy in the flood-ravaged state but in Kerala, the God’s own country there is a bigger disaster that is continuously playing out, the politics in the name of relief.

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