The typical Indian habit of squabbling even at the face of stark realities, seems to be rising its ugly head in the matter of flood disaster relief. The new row is about the Rs 700 Cr promised by UAE.
The UAE Ambassador in India Ahmed Al-Banna told Indian Express that UAE has not made any official declaration about such an aid. At the same time, UAE has formed an emergency ommittee to study about the aid to Kerala, its sourcing out and its modalities. The Ambassador also added that the figure of 700 Cr is not final, and since the assessment of damage has not yet been completed, a final figure cannot be given at this time.
The news about the promise of Rs 700 Cr has raised a big controversy regarding the lapses of the Centre related to accepting aid from abroad. Comments from Central government sources to the effect that foreign aid cannot be accepted at all, became subject of strong condemnation. It has been pointed out that given Kerala's need of billions of rupees for rehabilitation and reconstruction, it is unreasonable to reject foreign assistance.
On the other hand is the argument that current rules do not permit acceptance of foreign assistance. In such a situation, the revelation that the 700 Cr pledge has not been officially declared becomes a shot in the arm for those arguing against taking overseas aid. They contend that criticis of the Centre who cited a non-existent pledge are now being exposed. Let us hope that there will be better clarify regarding aid pledge. But the balance sheet of the debate is that the approach of the Centre has been exposed. For, its opposition to the promise of assistance was not on the grounds that it was not officially announced, but on the explanation that there was no provision to accept it. What Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) clarified was that it could not receive aid from a foreign country. But this contention was baseless. It is being cited that during the Tsunami disaster in 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken the position that we should not take foreign assistance, and that is the prevailing rule. But in fact that position was corrected by the same government later. The policy as explained then was that foreign aid couild be accepted but without endangering national security.
What is stated expressly in the National Disaster Management Plan released by the present government in 2016 is also that such assistance can be accepted. The Plan does not state that voluntarily offered aid cannot be accepted, but it is only that no request for foreign aid should be made. This gives clear room for accepting relief when voluntarily offered. This will not only help fund mobilization, but it also constitutes a courtesy and goodwill towards those who express solidarity with the country in times of tragedy. It is yet to be clear if the UAE not officially declaring a final promised figure is on realizing that the offer would definitely be declined. It can also be recalled that Thailand expressed regret about its relief offer being declined. The fact that UAE authorities were vocal about UAE's special emotional relations with India and Kerala, was also reminiscent of a humanitarian concern going beyond diplomatic formality. Our self-respect has come to such a state that political parties can freely accept foreign funds, but governments cannot accept them even as a goodwill gesture during disaster. Parties can request and take funds from abroad, but we cannot receive it even from those who voluntarily offer it! It is a government that has made it part of the statute books that foreign funds received by political parties need not be subjected to scrutiny. But the same entiry is now going eloquent about self-respect
Kerala is going through a grave crisis. When relief in many areas from reconstruction to disease eradication, can be made available from abroad and the UN, it would be naïve to close all doors citing baseless reasons. We need aid, and we need goodwill too. And if we bring in a situation where we lose both from sources including the UAE, it will only become another tragedy. However, consolingly the Centre has submitted in the court that the flood in Kerala is classified as "Level 3' disaster. This binds the Centre to extend liberal aid for disaster relief. Even then, what is being done to Kerala by those who become miserly by offering insignificant amount, and deducting the price of rice from allocated aid funds, is not fair.