New Delhi: In the wake of a massive controversy raging following the Centre’s refusal to accept financial assistance from foreign governments for Kerala flood relief, Union minister K.J. Alphons late on Thursday evening appealed to his own government for a “one-time exception” to a 14-year convention that bars using foreign funds for rehabilitation of victims of natural tragedies.
Mr Alphons, who hails from Kerala, is keen for paving the way for Kerala government to use Rs 700 crore aid offered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and assistance promised by other countries. Apart from UAE’s offer, Qatar has pledged around Rs 35 crore, Maldives has announced a donation of Rs 35 lakh and Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said that his country is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to flood-ravaged Kerala.
The Union minister has been touring the state extensively to assess damage caused by the worst floods in a century that have left 237 people dead since August 8 and displaced over 14 lakh.
Mr Alphons had, earlier in the day, defended the NDA government’s decision to follow a 14-year convention it “inherited” from previous governments of not accepting financial assistance for relief work.
He said that this was a policy that was followed by the current government from the time the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (UPA-1) had refused financial aid from foreign countries in 2004 during the devastating Tsunami.
However, with the Opposition mounting attack on the Central government for allegedly blocking foreign aid for Kerala, Mr Alphons, in an apparent turnaround, made a personal appeal to the Central government in the evening to review its stand.
“Kerala has contributed huge amounts of foreign exchange through remittance in the last 50 years. In fact in the last year itself, it had brought Rs 75,000 crore... For these reasons, as a junior minister I am appealing to my senior colleagues to make a special consideration for the state. I appeal to them to make a one-time exception to the policy,” he said.
His appeal to the Central government followed Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac’s criticism of the Modi government for disallowing the state from using aid offered by the UAE.
“We make no request to any foreign government but UAE government voluntarily offered Rs 700 crore. No, says Union government, it is below our dignity to accept foreign aid. This is a dog in the manger policy (sic),” Mr Isaac had written on Twitter.
He also criticised the Modi government saying that the flood-hit state had asked the Centre for a financial support of Rs 2,200 crore, but was granted only Rs 600 crore.
Meanwhile, a former government official who served as a senior bureaucrat during the early 2000s told this newspaper on condition of anonymity that the Bhuj earthquake of January 2001 in Gujarat during the NDA-I tenure of Atal Behari Vajpayee was the last major natural disaster during which India accepted assistance from foreign nations. Over 60 countries had reportedly rendered assistance in earthquake relief efforts.
He said during the Tsunami in December 2004, the UPA-1 government headed by Manmohan Singh reportedly did not accept financial assistance from foreign governments.
According to news agency reports, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had in 2016 suggested that foreign assistance offered as a goodwill gesture (in case of a natural disaster) “may” be accepted by India.