The Centre’s refusal to accept flood relief for Kerala from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ill-thought-out and needs to be re-examined with a dispassionate mind. As if in an after-thought, UAE envoy in New Delhi Ahmed Albanna has denied that any specific quantum had been offered though reports have been doing the rounds that the amount was Rs 700 crore. The question now is the principle regardless of the quantum.
It is folly to think that acceptance of help in an extraordinary calamitous situation would compromise the country’s self-respect.
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Considering that nearly 80 per cent of the ethnic Indians in UAE hail from Kerala and their contribution to that country’s development has been stupendous, it is graceful of UAE to have offered to help tide over the tragedy. It bespeaks of the concern it has for the kith and kin of an important section of their population.
Even a developed country like the US had accepted foreign help when hurricane Katrina had struck parts of it. We ought to accept UAE aid with grace and dignity and not pull out a dusted old precedent when in 2004 the then prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had rejected all foreign aid to tide over the effects of the catastrophic tsunami which had struck the coastal areas of South India to assert India’s status as a rising power.
If 2004 had established a precedent, so should the National Disaster Management Plan not be brushed aside when it provided for accepting foreign assistance for natural disasters in 2016.
The Kerala floods were a disaster of a century and require a relief and rehabilitation effort that is not within easy means of the state and the Central government to meet adequately and comprehensively. There is no reason a prosperous neighbour should not be allowed to chip in to ameliorate the condition of a section of the globe from which a major part of its population originated.
Of course, Kerala’s is not the lone example of foreign assistance being refused. Earlier, aid from Russia, Japan and the US had been refused for relief and rehabilitation in the wake of the Uttarakashi earthquake in 1993, the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and the Kashmir floods in 2014. But there have been precedents on the other side too of acceptance of aid, for the Gujarat quake of 2001, the Bengal cyclone of 2002 and the Bihar floods of 2004.
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Sticking to the rejection of UAE aid would send out a signal of arrogance which will not be conducive to cordial Indo-UAE relations. The External Affairs Ministry’s stand that the government was committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation in Kerala through domestic efforts may sound very good but would put a strain on local resources. What must also be considered is the unique relationship of Kerala with the Gulf countries.
What former Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon has suggested is that we say yes for help in rebuilding houses, bridges, roads and not directly for flood relief. This is a suggestion worth pondering over.
More than the receiver, India believes that as a growing economic power, it has the capability of positioning the country as more of an aid donor. India has proven its donor credentials in disaster-hit nations like Haiti ($5 million after the 2010 earthquake) and Pakistan ($25 million following the 2005 earthquake) in the recent past.
Accepting UAE’s help could lead to other countries offering help too. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan too has made an offer and accepting one and rejecting another would create a piquant situation. This is hardly an insurmountable problem. The way out suggested by Shiv Shankar Menon can be a thumb rule.
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The Kerala chief minister has favoured acceptance of the UAE offer. That should obviate any doubts over the Opposition creating a convincing din over the acceptance of aid for infrastructure development.