The Centre clarified on Thursday that Rs. 600 crore given to flood-hit Kerala was only “advance assistance” and more funds would be released after another assessment by an inter-ministerial team.
Meanwhile, Union Minister KJ Alphons said that he will request the Centre to change a 14-year old convention on accepting foreign financial assistance, NDTV reported.
The issue has sparked a row after the centre declared on Wednesday that it would not accept foreign aid to combat natural disasters, as per India’s policy since 2004 when Manmohan Singh government had declined foreign assistance in the aftermath of tsunami. The Centre’s response came after a reported offer of $100 million (around Rs. 700 crore) by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Death toll in Kerala floods has reached 373, more than 1.2 million people are in relief camps and losses are pegged at Rs 20,000 crore ($2.86 billion), 16% of the state’s 2018-19 expenditure, according to media reports.
“I would plead that for my state because I have seen the misery,” Alphons said. “We need the money.” The Union minister has been surveying the destruction caused by the flooding in the state.
Alphons cited Kerala’s contribution to India’s foreign exchange assets. “In fact in the last year itself, it had brought Rs 75,000 crore through remittances,” Alphons told PTI. “For these reasons, as a 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.”
On Wednesday, the Ministry of External Affairs formally rejected offers made by foreign countries to send aid for flood relief work in Kerala citing “existing policy”. The United Arab Emirates had offered Rs 700 crore as aid to Kerala. Earlier on Thursday, the European Union announced that it would donate 1.9 lakh euros (Rs 1.53 crore) to the Indian Red Cross relief work in Kerala.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the National Disaster Management Authority, in its 2016 policy, allowed an exception to the convention on foreign assistance if any national government of another country offers aid as a good will gesture. .
Kerala has accused the centre of depriving it of foreign funds while allocating only Rs. 600 crore against its demand for Rs. 2,200 crore for rebuilding efforts after the state’s worst floods in a century.
“This is a dog in the manger policy,” Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had tweeted.
A statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) last night said: “It is clarified that Rs. 600 crore released by Centre is the advance assistance only. Additional funds would be released from NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) on assessment of the damages as per laid down procedure.”
The MHA said the centre had provided urgent aid and relief material “in a timely manner and without any reservation”.
“In one of the largest rescue operations, 40 helicopters, 31 aircraft, 182 teams for rescue, 18 Medical Teams of Defence forces, 58 teams of NDRF, 7 companies of CAPFs were pressed into service along with over 500 boats and necessary rescue equipments. They successfully saved over 60,000 human lives by rescuing them from marooned areas and shifting them to relief camps. Defence aircrafts and helicopters have made 1,084 sorties of duration 1,168 flying hours and airlifted 1,286 tonne of load and carried 3,332 rescuers. In addition, a number of Navy and Coast Guard ships were pressed into service to carry relief material to Kerala. The search and rescue operations and mobilisation of resources alone would cost the Central Government hundreds of crore of rupees,” the MHA said.
The government said Rs. 600 crore was released in advance “pending an assessment” by a team of ministers. This, the statement added, was apart from Rs. 562.45 crore already in the State Disaster Relief Fund, to which the centre contributes 75 to 90 per cent.
The statement follows some severe criticism of the Rs 600 crore assistance even by independent sections. An India Spend analysis, pointing out that it was “less than the cost of one Rafale fighter jet (Rs 670 crore), 36 of which India hopes to buy from France”, added that this interim relief is less than:
– The amount allocated towards the construction of an exhibition cum convention centre (ECC), Dwarka, New Delhi– Rs 700 crore.
– the amount spent on the purchase of two new VVIP aircraft for special flights operated by Air India for the President, Vice President and Prime Minister–Rs 4,469.5 crore ($640 million);
– the allocation made by the Centre for the revival of 50 airports/airstrips under the Regional Connectivity Scheme–Rs 890 crore.