With pittance as relief, Kerala should identify other sources
News analysis

With pittance as relief, Kerala should identify other sources

K. Gopalakrishnan

The rehabilitation, relief and rebuilding of Kerala is at a standstill. The state which has suffered losses to the tune of Rs.31,000 Cr according to World Bank estimates is in a helpless state unable to take up the rebuilding due to lack of funds. With the Centre preventing acceptance of foreign assistance the state at present has to rely on voluntary contributions the main source of funding as the Government of India is almost ignoring the fervent appeals of the state.

Not that the Centre is not aware of the plight of the state devastated by the floods.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh had both visited the state and seen at first hand the damage the state has suffered.  Both had assured funds to rebuild the state. Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley had in principle agreed to levy additional duties in GST for flood relief according to reports. Alas! Nothing has materialized so far. The state could get very little help to return to the pre-flood situation.

Pinarayi Vijayan chief minister of Kerala, last week narrated the situation almost helplessly. The Centre has firmly said no to assistance from friendly countries like the UAE and other Gulf nations. Narendra Modi, as Gujarat chief minister, did receive foreign funds for relief and rehabilitation but towards Kerala he has adopted a different policy. On its part the Centre has neglected the just demands of the state still reeling under the impact of Nature’s fury. Though agencies like UN and World Bank have assessed that the state has suffered a loss of Rs.31000 Cr the central assistance so far has been only Rs.600 Cr!! Such a pittance has been given at a time when the state has asked for a compensation of Rs.4796 Cr and an additional proposal for compensation of Rs.5000 Cr to meet the immediate needs.

The total disaster relief received so far has been is Rs.958 Cr which includes the Rs.600 Cr received from the Centre. It is incredible but true that the Centre has turned a blind eye to the demands of the State.

For constructing new houses to those whose houses have been damaged beyond repair Rs.1357c Cr is needed. Compensation for crop and agricultural land losses are in addition to this. If the attitude of Centre remains the same, the dream of building a New Kerala will be similar to that of the Acche Din promise of Modi government! For within the resources of Kerala government total reconstruction programmes cannot be possible.

Chief Minister’s distress relief fund received Rs.2683.18Cr from July 27 to November 21. But this is hardly sufficient for even the immediate needs. With Modiji denying permission to receive foreign assistance, Chief Minister started a unique plan of receiving contributions from abroad mainly from Keralites and organizations with Malayali links, for reconstruction. He himself undertook a trip to the UAE and received over Rs.700Cr. Soon the Centre stepped in again and stopped ministers going to other countries and receiving funds from Keralites. Persuading Keralites working abroad by Ministers could have provided a substantial sum but it was not allowed reasons for which are yet not known.

The attitude of the Centre, to say the least, is highly discriminatory. For Pinarayi Vijayan has provided details of Central assistance when other states faced situations similar or comparatively less in damages to property, crops, lives and agricultural land.  To quote Vijayan, in Uttarakhand the Centre spent Rs.2300 Cr for flood relief. In 2015 the Government of India gave Rs.940 Cr to Chennai when it was hit by severe floods. In August this year New Delhi gave Rs.546 Cr which suffered flood damage in just one district. Only the wise men sitting in New Delhi can explain the formula for deciding the compensation or relief for natural calamities to states.

Now an instance of both pittance and pettiness: Kerala which received the princely sum of Rs.600 Cr as relief for damages to the tune of Rs.31000 Cr assessed by international agencies is asked to pay back Rs.265 Cr to the Centre for the rice and kerosene procured during the floods according to chief minister Vijayan. What could be the reason: Political or Pettiness?

One can only warn that such crass discrimination when faced with a natural calamity affecting the entire state sows dangerous seeds in the minds of the people of the state. Such an attitude extended to some states for political reasons can have serious consequences.  Fortunately in contrast to the attitude of the Centre various state governments, individuals and institutions throughout India and innumerable other organisations have come out with exemplary contributions for relief by donating money, material and providing volunteers for relief work. Yes, the people of India share a different sentiment than that of New Delhi, which has even earlier been rather step- motherly when it comes to allotment of funds for development in Five year plans, relief assistance, and providing essential commodities to PDS in the past.

However the state is well advised not to depend on Central funds. It should negotiate loans from international agencies at low rate interest.  It should also continue its efforts to organize contributions from Keralites through appeals and floating loans from them for specific projects. There is little scope to raise additional resources within the state, which is surviving through money orders, bank transferences and such other remittances.

More important is that the National Disaster Management Plan 2016 provisions allow freedom to state governments to accept donations from foreign countries to manage catastrophes. The state should approach the Supreme Court for direction to the Centre to allow Kerala to receive funds to tide over the present difficult situation.

Above all the state should also make all out efforts to bring all together to face the challenges. During floods the world saw only one Kerala. Now the state is taking unilateral decisions and following a confrontation path with a belligerent police force making the life of Ayyappa devotees in Sabarimala difficult. Others are also responsible for the present confrontation. Net result is sharp division in the society. The state government should seek the cooperation of all and take steps to arrive at a consensus. Only working together can make Kerala march forward on the path of progress.