With his country at the centre of a debate in India over acceptance of Rs 700 crore foreign aid for flood-ravaged Kerala — that debate is now a political slugfest between the Left that runs Kerala and the BJP which leads the government at the Centre — UAE Ambassador Ahmed Albanna told The Indian Express Thursday that there has been no official announcement so far by the UAE on any specific amount as financial aid. കേരളത്തിന് നല്കുന്ന സഹായ തുക എത്രയാണെന്ന് ഇതുവരെ ഔദ്യോഗികമായി പ്രഖ്യാപിച്ചിട്ടില്ലെന്ന് യുഎഇ
“The assessment of relief needed for the flood and aftermath is ongoing. Announcing any specific amount as financial aid, I don’t think it is final, since it is still ongoing,” Albanna said.
Asked if he meant that the UAE had not announced Rs 700 crore in aid, he said: “Yes, that is correct. It is not yet final. It has not been announced.”
Express Explained | Why India turned down ‘UAE offer’ — a 2004 policy, its symbolic signal
On August 21, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said at a press conference: “The UAE government is willing to help us. The crown prince, His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Al Nahim, has spoken to our PM yesterday. UAE has decided to help Kerala with $100 million. These facts were communicated to Keralite M A Yousaff Ali when he met Shaikh Mohammed Bin Al Nahim today to convey Eid wishes.”
And in an interview to The Indian Express Wednesday, Vijayan, citing his state’s special bonds with the emirates, said the “UAE cannot be considered as any other nation”. Hours later, the Ministry of External Affairs practically ruled out the UAE offer by underlining India’s policy on “meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts”.
Ambassador Albanna said: “All that has happened is that UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has formed a national emergency committee. The main goal was to look into sourcing out funds, aid material, medicines and other things for our friendly people and friends in Kerala, who have been hit by the unfortunate flood.”
“The committee is coordinating with the federal authorities, since we know and understand the financial aid rules in India. And, it is also coordinating with the local authorities for immediate aid in terms of relief and food material,” he said. “We are working through the organisations like Red Crescent in UAE, and organisations in the state of Kerala as well as others based in India.”
He said the committee in the UAE is in-charge and has been receiving contributions from various quarters. He said the UAE leads the world in providing humanitarian aid — from Kerala to Sudan, Bangladesh to Somalia. “It is part of UAE’s responsibility,” he said.
Meanwhile, as Kerala urged the Centre to let foreign aid come in — state Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said there was no bar on accepting foreign assistance for rehabilitation works — Union Minister K J Alphons, who hails from the state, said he had “pleaded with senior ministers to make an exception” this time.
Alphons, Union Minister for Tourism, told The Indian Express: “I have pleaded with my senior ministers in the cabinet to give a one-time exception for Kerala because the state desperately needs assistance and money for rebuilding. Kerala has contributed so much to India, in terms of foreign remittance and foreign exchange through numerous Keralites working abroad, and through tourism.”
“The (government) policy never said ‘no foreign aid’. If there was a clear policy against foreign assistance, it would have been clearly mentioned in the 2016 national disaster management policy,” he said.
He said Kerala requires “huge amount of money” because there are more than 1.3 million people in relief camps and more than two lakhs houses have been damaged. “People need to go back to their houses, the cleaning itself will require a lot of money. People who were living on one cow or goat have lost everything. There are many who lost everything in this massive flood.”
He appealed to the rest of the country to help Kerala not “by just picking clothes from their wardrobes and sending them to Kerala, but be generous in writing cheques”.
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi, asking him to “bring suitable modifications” to rules which prevent India from accepting the UAE aid offer.
Kerala’s BJP chief Sreedharan Pillai said there was no offer from the UAE. “This is the biggest lie of the century, spread by CPM and the Left Front (ruling front in Kerala). Officially, the UAE has announced 10 million UAE dirhams for relief works,” Pillai told The Indian Express.
According to Pillai, when there is an offer of assistance from other countries, it is the central authorities who have to take a stand. “If there is a change required, the authorities will make them,” he said.
As the debate raged, the European Union (EU) made an initial contribution of 190,000 euros in humanitarian aid funding to support the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) for immediate relief assistance.
“EU has allocated its initial contribution for relief assistance in Kerala. Aid, channelled through Indian Red Cross, will reach some of the most affected people,” Tomasz Kozlowski, EU Ambassador to India, said Thursday.
“The aid will directly benefit 25,000 from among the most affected people in some of the worst hit areas of the state,” the EU mission said in a statement.
While the Indian government is going by the policy of not accepting foreign aid for disaster relief that was framed after the tsunami hit India, former National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said while the 2004 decision was to not accept foreign participation in relief, it could be accepted for long-term rehabilitation “case by case”.
“If memory serves, the 2004 decision was to not accept foreign participation in relief but accept it for long-term rehabilitation case by case. No rescue teams needing hand-holding and interpretation but yes to help rebuilding houses, bridges, roads etc. A way forward for Kerala?,” Menon tweeted.
Former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao too tweeted: “True that as country we can give rather than take assistance, but 80% of Indians in the Gulf are Malayalis. Offer of flood relief assistance from region must be treated with sensitivity. Saying no is simple, but for Kerala-in-crisis, it’s not so simple.”