Accept aid, won’t hurt India’s prestige

The flood waters are receding, but Kerala is faced with the mammoth challenge of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. The human tragedy that it went through in the last fortnight was unprecedented, with over 250 people dead, thousands of homes destroyed and over 12 lakh people living in relief camps. They are staring into an uncertain future after losing their homes and belongings. The entire country has extended its helping hand with donations in cash and kind pouring into the state. Huge amounts of money will be needed for immediate relief and reconstruction. The state government has made an initial estimate of its requirement at Rs 20,000 crore, but this is bound to go up as the magnitude of the tragedy unfolds. While the state needs all the help it is offered, the central government has taken an unhelpful stance on a major aid offer by the United Arab Emirates government. 

The UAE has offered Kerala Rs 700 crore for relief and rehabilitation efforts, but the Narendra Modi government has indicated that it would not approve accepting this offer. The government’s position is that the country does not accept aid from foreign governments for disaster relief after the Manmohan Singh government laid down such a policy in the wake of the tsunami in 2004. The UPA government had then turned down offers of help from governments as it felt the country could take care of its needs on its own. It is wrong to invoke this policy in the face of the huge human tragedy in Kerala and for the government to stand on prestige while people are desperate for succour. No policy should be so rigid as to reject a humanitarian gesture. In fact, the Manmohan Sigh government did relax this policy later and allowed the routing of foreign government aid through agencies. Thus, the European Union has channelled its initial contribution of Rs 1.5 crore for Kerala through the Indian Red Cross Society. But the Modi government says only contributions from individuals and aid bodies can be accepted. This is an artificial distinction. All countries, no matter how rich and capable, welcome and accept such offers in times of calamity. 

There is a view that the policy being cited is only about accepting immediate relief, while reconstruction and rehabilitation do not come under its scope. The national disaster management plan of 2016 (clause 9.2) says the Centre may accept the offer of relief from a foreign government if the offer is made voluntarily. The UAE government made its offer because large numbers of people from Kerala work in that country and contribute to its economy. Its offer should not be rejected. The UAE’s, and indeed all such offers, should be welcomed as humanitarian gestures.  

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Accept aid, won’t hurt India’s prestige

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