Even as the UAE has offered Rs 700 crore as flood relief for Kerala, the Indian government is going by the disaster aid policy set in December 2004 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Government sources said that when the tsunami hit India in December 2004, that was the “watershed moment” for India’s disaster aid policy. “We are following the policy since 2004, and have been turning down assistance from foreign governments since then. In Kerala also, we are sticking to that policy,” a government source told The Indian Express.
Until then, 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).
However, in December 2004, PM 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. The 2004 tsunami, which affected the coast of Tamil Nadu as well as Andaman and Nicobar Islands, killed more than 12,000 people and displaced 6 lakh.
Sources said there are two reasons for such a policy: “Firstly, the governments since then have felt that India has 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,” the source said. It also signalled India’s economic clout as it has become an aid donor.
However, this policy is limited to foreign governments, and does not extend to individuals and charity organisations. “It is not possible to curtail aid from NRIs in foreign countries or NGOs working in the disaster management sector. Their funds can be accepted through the remittance route,” the source said. So, that has led to India to not accept Rs 700 crore from the UAE or Rs 35 lakh from Maldives.
In the past 14 years, India has refused aid from Russia, US and Japan for Uttarakhand floods in 2013, and for the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and floods in Kashmir in 2014. “As a general policy, in case of rescue and relief operations, we have followed the practice that we have adequate ability to respond to emergency requirements,” a senior Indian official told The Indian Express.
The government has a standard template to respond to any offer of assistance, as has been circulated to all Indian embassies across the world. “The Indian diplomats are expected to express gratitude to foreign government officials and diplomats for their sentiments and offer, but are to be politely told that the government has no requirement as of now, but will let them know – if and when the need arises,” the Indian official said.
Sources said that when PM Narendra Modi expressed gratitude to UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Saturday, “for his gracious offer to support people of Kerala during this difficult time”, he was – according to sources – speaking from the diplomatic playbook that Indian diplomats and officials are expected to follow.