Kerala floods: Why foreign donations have triggered a controversyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/kerala-floods-foreign-donation-uae-pinarayi-vijayan-5321017/

Kerala floods: Why foreign donations have triggered a controversy

The Ministry of External Affairs has clarified that India won't be able to accept such funds from a foreign government due to a policy put in place by the former UPA government following the 2004 tsunami.

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The Kerala floods have claimed 231 lives since August 8. (File)

Even as Kerala is recovering from the unprecedented floods and rains, which have claimed 231 lives since August 8, a controversy has erupted over the acceptance of foreign donations towards the state’s relief and rehabilitation operations. UAE, which is home to thousands of expatriates from the state, has promised assistance worth Rs 700 crore. However, the Ministry of External Affairs has clarified that India won’t be able to accept such funds from a foreign government due to a policy put in place by the former UPA government following the 2004 tsunami.

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What is the controversy over foreign donations?

Following a state Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought a special package of Rs 2,600 crore from the Centre for relief and rehabilitation. However, the Centre, which has declared Kerala floods as a “calamity of severe nature”, has till now released financial assistance of Rs 600 crore to the Kerala government. This includes the central assistance of Rs 500 crore as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Rs 100 crore announced by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

UAE, which houses a number of migrant workers from Kerala, has offered an assistance worth Rs 700 crore. Its Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has also instructed the immediate formation of a national emergency committee tasked with providing relief assistance to the people affected by the floods in Kerala.

However, Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said: “In line with the existing policy, the Government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts.”

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Children’s books laid out to dry after the flood subsided in Chalakudy. This town in Thrissur was badly affected by the floods, and residents had to move to shelter homes. (Photo: Vignesh Krishnamoorthy)

How many countries have offered assistance to Kerala?

Besides UAE, Maldives, Qatar and Thailand have offered monetary support for relief operations in Kerala. While Maldives, whose ties with India is at an all-time low, has offered $50,000, Qatar has offered about Rs 35 crore.

Thailand, however, has not made its monetary offer public, but its ambassador Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi has said India had refused to accept overseas donations for flood relief in Kerala. “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,” Chutintorn tweeted on Tuesday.

Army personnel undertake rescue work in flood-ravaged Kerala. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

What is India’s disaster aid policy? Since when has it been in place?

India has been turning down overseas assistance since 2004 when the then UPA government under Manmohan Singh finalised a disaster aid policy in the wake of the tsunami that struck the coast of Tamil Nadu as well as Andaman and Nicobar Islands, killing more than 12,000 people and displacing 6 lakh. Following the incident, then PM Manmohan Singh famously said, “We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own and we will take their help if needed.” That set the Indian policy, and Delhi has since then decided to follow it, of not accepting aid from foreign governments.

Volunteers reach in a boat to rescue stranded people from a flooded area in Chengannur. (File)

Why was such a policy formulated?

Besides signalling India’s economic clout as an aid donor, the government might have felt that India had the capacity to handle disasters like these. “And secondly, accepting from any one government opens the floodgates for others as well, and it would be diplomatically difficult to refuse from some while accepting from others,” a source said. However, this policy is limited to foreign governments and does not extend to individuals and charity organisations.

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Fishermen get ready for rescue work, at Varattar river near Chengannur. (File)

Since 2004, India has declined foreign aid from how many nations?

Over the last 14 years, India had declined financial assistance from countries like the USA, Japan and Russia during the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, Uttarakhand floods of 2013, and Kashmir floods in 2014.

Until 2004, India had accepted aid from foreign governments. The government had accepted aid for the Uttarkashi earthquake (1991), Latur earthquake (1993), Gujarat earthquake (2001), Bengal cyclone (2002) and Bihar floods (July 2004).

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan takes stock of the situation in Kerala. (File Photo)

What has the Kerala Chief Minister said over the controversy?

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that UAE had on its own proposed the financial aid. “As I understand, UAE on its own has proposed this aid. UAE cannot be considered as any other nation, as their rulers have underlined. Indians, especially Keralites, have contributed immensely in their nation-building,” Vijayan said in an interview to The Indian Express.