August 29, 2018
Flood-struck Kerala politicians say national pride should not be at expense of rehabilitation funds.
Debate on whether India should accept foreign aid in times of crisis has raged on in the wake of the devastating floods in Kerala. The Indian government has refused to accept offers of monetary help, angering many in the southern state as it struggles with rehabilitation work.
Kerala was hit by heavy monsoon rains earlier this month, causing floods in which more than 400 people died. Over 2,600 villages were inundated, leading to a massive rescue and relief effort that saw a million people housed in relief centres across the state.
The Kerala government has estimated that the state, among India’s more prosperous with a 94 per cent literacy rate, needed more than 20 billion rupees (S$389 million) to rebuild everything from houses to roads and bridges.
The federal government has refused offers of foreign aid, saying this is in line with existing policy, and that India will tackle the Kerala floods “through domestic efforts”.
Within Kerala, there is anger that the federal government, which has offered only 5 billion rupees to begin with, has refused foreign aid at a time when the state is struggling to get back on its feet.
Mr Joji Cherien, a village council member from Chengannur, one of the worst-affected flood areas, said conditions on the ground remained tough. “We hope we can survive this. We have to rebuild our state. We need the money. If we can get it from other countries, why should it not be taken?” said Mr Cherien.
Politicians from the state said national pride should not come at the expense of having money for rehabilitation, with Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac calling New Delhi’s policy not to take foreign aid a “dog in the manger” policy.
Parliament’s Upper House MP Binoy Viswam, who is from Kerala, on Monday asked the Supreme Court to intervene and order the government to accept foreign aid.
Kerala is under the control of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), while the federal government is run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Offers of help for Kerala have come from Gulf countries such as Qatar, which has reportedly offered US$5 million (S$6.8 million), and the United Arab Emirates, which has offered help but did not spell out the amount.
Kerala has a special bond with the Gulf. Of the seven million Indians working in the Gulf countries, more than 2.5 million are from the southern Indian state.
The Maldives has offered 3.5 million rupees.
Those who support the policy that India should not accept foreign aid said it was a matter of national pride to be self-sufficient.
The government is seen to be continuing the policy set by the previous administration led by prime minister Manmohan Singh, who had refused to accept foreign aid and managed with domestic funds during the 2004 tsunami which devastated coastal parts of Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
“There should be a distinction between developmental assistance, which is regulated, and humanitarian assistance, which is a spontaneous reaction of the international community to international disasters like a flood, famine or tsunami. The government should not adopt a rigid view,” said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.
Arab expert Zikrur Rahman said: “It is a matter of pride that we are a strong economy and we shouldn’t take aid. But this time the state government wanted the money and the central (federal) government didn’t. This has created concern that politics is being played.”
But others said it was up to the Indian government to decide.
“The Indian government has adequate funds to address both emergency relief and long-term recovery of Kerala after the flood disaster. While acknowledging gracious offers of help from foreign governments, this is the Indian government’s job, which it must do and be seen to do,” said Mr Nitin Pai, director of Takshashila Institution, a non-profit organisation.