The humanitarian gesture of financial support from the United Arab Emirates to the flood-hit Kerala has suddenly got embroiled in controversy with even some political outfits claiming that no official communication was made in the matter.
The ball is now in the Central court as it remains a fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a call from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He later tweeted: “Our relief and charitable institutions are helping with relief efforts.”
On August 18, Modi tweeted: “A big thanks to @hhshkmohd for his gracious offer to support people of Kerala during this difficult time. His concern reflects the special ties between governments and people of India and UAE.”
It is nearly a week now and as rehabilitation measures are underway, came the reported statement of UAE Ambassador to India Ahmed Albanna today that his country announced a week ago that it had formed a committee to ensure the funds reached the right beneficiaries in Kerala.
He said a national committee for aid to Kerala had been set up and would work with the External Affairs Ministry here to “ensure the funds reached the needy".
But there is no mention of the amount. This is in sharp contrast to the announcement made by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at a press conference that the UAE had offered $100 million (Rs 700 crore) towards relief to Kerala. He had said Lulu promoter MA Yusufali had spoken to the rulers of the Emirates and said Rs 700 crore would come to Kerala.
This gesture made the Union Government announce that it was against the pronounced policy of the country to accept foreign aid. The BJP-led Government claimed it went by the policy that has been in vogue.
This earned the wrath of many in the State with the CPM alleging the hand of the BJP behind denying Kerala support, though even Union Minister Alphons Kannamthanam batted for the UAE aid.
BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai said there was no offer from the UAE. If an offer of assistance came from other countries, the Central authorities would take a stand, was his view.
In this context, the tweet of Former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao becomes relevant. “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.”
It is now for the Centre to clear the air as it has been ten days since Kerala’s woes began. Modi announced an immediate relief of Rs 500 crore when the loss could reach to as high as Rs 50,000 crore, besides Rs 100 crore by Rajnath Singh which is the same as that announced by Kiren Rijiju. But sadly, this is also the amount recommended by the Central team that visited the State after the first spell of the disaster. The Central Government has said the relief was recommended till July 31. So all the State has got is a mere Rs 600 crore.
When the State is struggling to come out of the crisis with little support coming from the Centre comes the controversy over a humanitarian gesture from outside. Even leading football clubs in Europe have promised support. Virat Kohli dedicated the third Test win against England to the people of Kerala.
Even when the Centre claims it goes by rules and its supporters here justify that, it should be noted that this same Government amended the National Disaster Management Policy which was accepted in May 2016
“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 Home Ministry should coordinate with the External Affairs Ministry for reviewing foreign offers and channelising them.
Kerala waits for aid and and also an explanation from the Centre on the UAE humanitarian gesture.