Please don’t block Relief for Kerala

Kerala is in dire need of help. And help has no nationality. Be it from foreign or domestic the government should not put hurdles in the path but open gates. This is no time for politics.

As rains ravage Kerala, thousands have lost their loved ones, their houses, and all their possessions. The Centre has disappointed with its measly offer of financial assistance. Adding to the anger, it is now stopping aid coming in from foreign countries.

The Indian government’s response to foreign nations coming forward to the aid of Kerala is seemingly one of indifference. “Thanks, but no thanks,” it has conveyed to them citing “existing policy” on disaster management. But many would be able to see this move for what it is: a case of ego and illogicality.

People in Kerala are suffering. More than 380 have died, 15 lakh have been displaced, and several are missing. Damages have been estimated at Rs. 21,000 crore. That relief is required is too obvious a fact to state. Till now, the Centre has offered Rs. 600 crore as assistance. We are no developed nation, and though the amount granted so far could be much more, we could always do with outside help.

Now, the whole world is aware of Malayalis’ contribution to the making of the Gulf nations, just like it is aware of Kerala’s plight due to the recent disaster in the state. Rains and floods have been catastrophic, acknowledged as the “worst disaster in the state in 100 years”. The entire nation stands in support, and so does the world, which is why help has been pouring in from all parts. It is a sign, a gesture, recognising the community’s contribution.

So why should anybody, including the Indian government, stand in the way of this voluntarily-offered relief? What’s the point to prove? Is the situation not bad enough? Or are we flourishing as a nation?

Help Pouring In

“Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s PM, offered almost Rs 700 crore to Kerala. It was seen as an acknowledgment of the connection between Dubai and Kerala as well as the close ties between UAE and India. In a tweet, PM Modi thanked the ruler of Dubai. Kerala CM Vijayan also offered fulsome gratitude.

Qatar has offered almost Rs 35 crore while Maldives, a country with which India’s ties have nosedived recently, stepped up with an offer of $50,000 (Rs 34 lakh). Congress MP Shashi Tharoor also landed up at the United Nation’s doorstep in Geneva to ask for aid.”

– A Times Of India report

Angering and shocking many, the Indian government has rejected these offers.  “In line with existing policy, the government is committed to meeting requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts,” the Ministry of External Affairs said, adding contributions to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund “from NRIs, PIOs and international entities such as foundations” are welcome.

The “policy” it quoted was put in place by the UPA government during the 2004 tsunami, which killed over 12,000 people across Tamil Nadu and Andaman & Nicobar. “We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own,” then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said, instead approaching agencies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for loans. Following the precedent, foreign help was rejected during the 2013 Uttarakhand floods. The aim was to project India as a capable economic power, more of an aid giver than receiver.

But this time, the developments seem no more than petty politics. Journalist Tony Joseph had two questions: if the government was refusing foreign aid during a disaster, (a) “How on earth could you then allow political parties to access foreign funds?” and (b) “How come Gujarat can get foreign funds but Kerala should not?”

Another Twitter user has pointed out that there was actually no “policy” as cited by the government. “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 National Disaster Management Plan says, @Advaidism tweeted. “If it chooses to REFUSE the offer, it is for their own reasons and not because of any policies previously set by Manmohan Singh or Nehru,” he added.‏

A series of government appeals and advertisements are out there requesting people to come forward and help. And here the Modi government is declining it. But the suffering citizens need it, and need it badly.

This is no time for politics. Foreign nations coming forward with such offers of aid is a beautiful gesture. Let’s embrace those who wish to help, and be ready to return the favour when they need us. Nobody becomes bigger or smaller by partnering in support programs and helping each other. That’s how the world should be, that’s how the society should function, that’s how humanity should work.

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