Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor on Thursday said that central government must review the policy on foreign donations for flood relief efforts in Kerala.
Tharoor also defended his visit to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, and said that he had a a conversation with Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan before his departure to Geneva.
Talking on Rahul Gandhi’s four day visit to Europe, Tharoor said Congress president is systematically going to different regions to project the message of the party and to engage with overseas Indians.
Q: You issued a fairly detailed statement today and in that you say that prior to undertaking your meetings you had consulted personally and directly with the chief minister of Kerala? Did he give you the go ahead to engage with UN, WHO officials because our conversations to the Kerala health secretary, categorically stated that they were already in touch with WHO both in India as well as in Geneva?
A: I have no reason to doubt that they were in touch at the working level and they should be—members of the WHO for example and WHO should naturally reach out to us. I have no difficultly in accepting that must certainly what must have been happening with the health secretary. My conversation was with the chief minister and he indicated very clearly what he thought would be useful for me to establish while I was and there and I made it very clear that I was going in a personal capacity at my own expense, not pretending to represent anybody. The idea was to exploratory and informal discussions with people who I have known because of my international networks after 29 years of the United Nations myself.
I have come back with a clear set of ideas as to what would be possible for the international system to offer us immediately, as well as possibly in the long term.
So, this is it and I have conveyed that to the chief minister who is the only person who can decide whether to request the government of India (GoI) to approach the international system. I also pointed out there isn’t even a need for a formal request from the GoI, these are things that the UN will be happy to offer us.
We are members of the UN system, we are members of the United Nations and the entire principle of multilateral cooperation is ‘one for all and all for one’. If we need something that we immediately cannot get ourselves from our own resources, there is absolutely nothing embarrassing in taking it from them.
For example, WHO has a stock of two million anti-cholera vaccines, we don’t have anything remotely like that. If there is a need established that we should take steps to prevent cholera from all the water borne pollution, from the polluted water that people have been standing neck deep in, then we should certainly go ahead and get those vaccines. There is no embarrassment in that. It is a matter of human lives.
Q: I don’t think there is any question of embarrassment and I do believe your conversations have been with the CM, I am only alluding to the fact that the Kerala health secretary in conversation with us even on that specific recommendation that you have made on the anti-cholera vaccination seem to suggest that as of now there is no need for any further intervention from the WHO, what is required is in operation on the ground - have you heard back from the CM, you said you have updated him on your conversations that took place?
A: I am not in Kerala, so I have written to him rather than have a discussion with him, which I will do in person when I get back, but I absolutely want the government to take the decisions and the responsibility.
I happen to represent a political party that is neither in power in Kerala nor in Delhi, I am simply using my good offices, I would have felt it immoral somebody with the networks and the contacts and background that I have not to have done whatever I could to see how I could leverage to help my people in distress.
If the state government in its wisdoms things there is no help required, then that is perfectly all right with me. It is their responsibility and I am not even implying otherwise. I have been unfairly attacked for pretending to say and do things, I have never pretended to do and say things. As far as I am concerned, I went to use my good offices, I have come back, but I hope a very detailed and professional set of findings, conclusions and recommendations. The Kerala government is the one that decides on any of these recommendations that needs to be followed up.
Q: Would you like to get your reaction to the letter that has come in from Oommen Chandy stating that the central government should review its decision to not allow foreign aid, given the fact that UAE has committed to putting in Rs 700 crore towards Kerala’s rescue relief rehabilitation operations. Do you believe there should be a rethink or review?
A: Absolutely, I am 100 percent with Oommen Chandy, because we need to do a professional needs assessment. But given the fact that we have lost 85,000 kms of road damage, 39 bridges damaged or destroyed, 50,000 homes washed away/damaged- we are looking at a colossal rebuilding task. When the Gujarat earthquake hit the town of Bhuj, what did we do – we got international assistance, chief minister Narendar Modi called a conference, donors came and $1.7 billion was pledged and Bhuj was rebuild that is precisely the sort of thing, we might need to do in Kerala.
Now, if Kerala government says this is our estimate – let us say Rs 20,000 crore and central government says we will give you Rs 20,000 crore fine, but the central government has so far offered a total of Rs 500 crore and it may well be necessary for Kerala to say that what you are suggesting is simply inadequate for the colossal scale of the damage. That is an issue that needs to be thrashed out between the state and central government. But if indeed, the estimates are of what we need is much higher than resources available, then I see absolutely no shame in accepting what is being offered. We are not going out with begging bowl or stretching out our hand looking for aid, people have come spontaneously and offered and at the same time, we feel clearly there is a need and that is essentially the issue and Oommen Chandy is quite right in flagging the issue in this way.
Q: What is the agenda for Gandhi’s four day visit to Europe?
A: He has been systematically going to different regions to project the message of the Congress party and to engage with overseas Indians, whom of course the PM has also been meeting on his official travels.
So it is part of series of such things – it began with Berkeley, where I happened to be with him. He did Princeton, he has been to Silicon Valley, and he has come out to other parts of the region. He has been to Singapore, Malaysia and South East Asia. He is in Germany today and tomorrow in London, the next two days after that. Then I expect him to come to Kerala and see the flood victims as the waters recede and he is able to walk about and mingle with people. He rightly didn’t think he would do too much good by doing a helicopter survey as the PM has done, because he has no executive responsibility for delivering aid as result of helicopter survey.
But as a people’ representative, he would like to be with people and he would be coming very soon next week.