The Indian government has confirmed that it has politely refused UAE’s offer of Rs 700 crores for relief and rehabilitation in Kerala. Soon after UAE made the announcement there was speculation that India may decline the offer.
After several queries the Ministry of External Affairs put out a formal statement saying, “the government of India deeply appreciates offers from several countries. In line with the existing policy, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts.”
The move has evoked angry reactions from the Kerala government. State finance minister Thomas Isaac took to twitter to attack the Modi government calling it a ‘dog in the manger policy’. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who has pegged losses due to floods at Rs 20000 crore has been demanding at least Rs 2200 crores as immediate relief but what has come from the centre so far is Rs 600 crores.
Not just the Kerala cabinet, even foreign diplomats are now questioning the centre’s rationale. Former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao took to twitter to say though a polite refusal of the aid offer is simple, for a Kerala in crisis, it is not so simple.
Not just Rao, several top diplomats like Shiv Shankar Menon and Vishnu Prakash have called upon the centre to make a concession.
So what really is the policy? Top sources say there is no written rule but since 2004 India has followed the policy that it would rather be a donor than a recipient.
“Since 2004 we have taken aid from international organisations for long term reconstruction but we are not accepting direct monetary aid from sovereign nations,” sources with intimate knowledge of the matter said.
What is important is that sources have said that ‘if UAE were to give money to an international organisation working on the ground in Kerala there would be no problem’.
Interestingly, the last time India accepted monetary aid from foreign countries was during the tenure of an NDA government led by late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In the aftermath of the earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat, Vajpayee had appealed for contributions to the PM Relief Fund.
More than a hundred countries had come forward to help with direct monetary aid, medical aid, rescue and relief teams and aid routed through UN and other international bodies.
The centre maintains that since 2004 they have been declining offer of aid and the same policy was followed when Russia offered financial assistance during the Uttarakhand floods in 2013 when the UPA was in power. But, there is an inherent contradiction in the centre’s stand.
Clause 9.2 of National Disaster Management Plan says India may accept foreign assistance ‘if another country voluntarily offers assistance as a goodwill gesture’.
POINT 9.2 OF NATIONAL DISASTER MANAGEMENT PLAN – Accepting Foreign Assistance As a matter of policy, the Government of India does not issue any appeal for foreign assistance in the wake of a disaster. However, if the national government of another country voluntarily offers assistance as a goodwill gesture in solidarity with the disaster victims, the Central Government may accept the offer. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India is required to coordinate with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, which is primarily responsible for reviewing foreign offers of assistance and channelizing the same. In consultation with the concerned State Government, the MHA will assess the response requirements that the foreign teams can provide.
Four former foreign secretaries confirmed that the principle of not accepting monetary aid has been in practice for over a decade now. Former Foreign Secretary Shashank said, “accepting monetary aid shows you are not capable enough yourself. Then there is a problem with accountability and streamlining of funds coming in”.Another former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said India was right in declining foreign aid but added that poor handling of the issue by the Centre had led to this PR disaster.