New Delhi: In the wake of a massive controversy raging following its refusal to accept foreign government aid for the rehabilitation efforts in flood-hit Kerala, Union minister K.J. Alphons late on Thursday evening appealed for an "one-time exception" to a 14-year convention to allow assistance from a foreign government, notably from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that reportedly offered Rs 700 crore for the flood relief effort.
Mr Alphons had earlier in the day said the current NDA Government had followed a 14-year convention it "inherited" from previous governments of not accepting such assistance and that this was a policy that was followed by the current government from the time the then prime minister Manmohan Singh (UPA-1 Government) had refused aid from foreign countries in 2004 during the devastating Tsunami.
According to news agency reports, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) too had in 2016 suggested that assistance offered as a goodwill gesture (in case of a natural disaster) "may" be accepted by India.
But in what appears to be a turnaround in view of mounting pressure from his home state Kerala, Mr Alphons was quoted as telling news agency PTI, "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 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."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Alphons had been quoted by news agencies as saying, "A policy decision was taken by the Manmohan Singh government (UPA-1) in December, 2004 in the aftermath of the Tsunami and that policy has been continued with for the last 14 years. This is something we have inherited." The UAE was reportedly ready to offer Rs 700 crore in aid for the Kerala relief efforts but the Union Government had decided the offer would not be accepted. It remains to be seen whether there will be a rethink by the NDA Government now in the wake of Mr. Alphons' appeal.
Mr. Alphons also appealed to all the Indians to donate "big money" for the cause. "We need huge amounts of money -- millions and billions of dollars to rebuild Kerala. Now we need that big money. Please send money to the chief minister's relief fund and not to NGOs that are not credible," he said.
Meanwhile, a former government official who served as a senior bureacucrat during the early 2000s told this newspaper on condition of anonymity that he was unsure of whether the policy decision not to accept foreign government aid in case of a natural disaster---was taken in the last few years of the Vajpayaee Government or during the first year of the UPA-1 Government headed by Manmohan Singh.
The Bhuj earthquake of January, 2001, in Gujarat during the NDA-I tenure of the Vajpayee Government was the last major natural disaster that India faced in which the then Union Government had accepted foreign Government assistance. In that case, the Governments of over 60 countries had reportedly rendered assistance in some form or the other in the earthquake relief efforts.
The next major natural disaster was the Tsunami in December, 2004, that ravaged the coast of Tamil Nadu. In the aftermath of that, the then UPA-1 Government headed by then PM Manmohan Singh reportedly did not accept financial assistance from foreign governments.
The Indian Government had on Wednesday night formally made it clear that "in line with the existing policy", it would politely decline offers of aid from foreign countries for the Kerala flood relief effort, adding that it would accomplish the relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts. However, it had said contributions were welcome from Non-resident Indians, Persons of Indian Origin and international foundations to the relief funds of the Prime Minister and Kerala Chief Minister. However, it said India "appreciated" the offers "from several countries, including from foreign governments, to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tragic floods".
Earlier, among others, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had criticised the BJP-led government over the refusal of aid and said the rain ravaged southern state had asked the Centre for a financial support of Rs 2,200 crore, but was granted only Rs 600 crore.
"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)," Isaac had written on Twitter.
He had further said as part of the state government's resource mobilisation efforts for the ongoing relief-and-rescue operations for the flood-hit people, it had increased the excise duty on liquor and was geared to approach the GST Council for imposing a 10-per cent cess on SGST. "Both together on annualised basis mobilise 750 crore ... ," Isaac had written on the microblogging website.