India may not have accepted the UAE government's offer of ₹700 crore financial aid to flood-devastated Kerala but in accordance with the National Disaster Management Plan of 2016, if the national government of another country offers assistance as a goodwill gesture to disaster victims, the central government may accept it.
"As a matter of policy, the government of India does not issue any appeal for foreign assistance in the wake of a disaster. However, 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," says the Plan drafted by the National Disaster Management Authority in 2016.
According to the 2016 Plan, the Home Ministry is required to coordinate with the External Affairs Ministry, which is primarily responsible for reviewing offers of assistance and channelising the same. It said that in consultation with the state government concerned, the Home Ministry "will assess the response requirements that the foreign teams can provide".
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has cited this Plan to make his point for India to accept the offer from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to around 2.8 million expatriate Indians, most of whom hail from Kerala. Apart from the UAE, Qatar has offered Rs 36 crore and the Maldives $50,000 as financial aid to Kerala.
The worst floods to hit Kerala since 1924 have claimed around 370 lives since the monsoon rains began on May 29 and displaced hundreds of thousands of people this month.
India on Wednesday politely declined financial aid from foreign governments citing an existing policy. "The government of India deeply appreciates offers from several countries, including from foreign governments, to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tragic floods in Kerala," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a statement. "In line with the existing policy, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts," Kumar said.
"Contributions to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund and the Chief Minister's Relief Fund from NRIs, PIOs and international entities such as foundations would, however, be welcome."
The current stand stemmed from a decision taken by the then UPA-I government after the 2004 tsunami when it decided that India will not be accepting financial aid directly from foreign governments. The UPA-II government too reiterated New Delhi's position after the 2013 cloudburst in Uttarakhand in which over 5,700 people died.
The sources referred to the government's statement which stated that "as a general policy in case of rescue and relief operations we have followed the practice that we have adequate ability to respond to emergency requirements". The statement said that for a variety of reasons, India has not in the past too, unless there are specific circumstances, been able to accept offers of assistance for rescue and relief.
"Beyond the rescue and relief phase there are other phases," the Ministry stated. "These are rehabilitation, reconstruction, and so on. If reconstruction and other measures are provided for those elements, we will examine how they fit into the broader plan in terms of rehabilitation and reconstruction in the region and take a call at that stage rather than say that this was for all times," the Ministry had said following the Uttarakhand cloudburst.
Meanwhile, two former Foreign Secretaries -- Shiv Shankar Menon and Nirupama Rao -- feel there is nothing wrong in accepting foreign governments' aid. However, Rao said that offers of flood relief from Gulf countries should be treated with sensitivity.
"True that as country we can give rather than take assistance but 80% of Indians in the Gulf are Malayalis," Rao tweeted. "Offer of flood relief assistance from that region must be treated with sensitivity. Saying no is simple, but for Kerala-in-crisis, it's not so simple."
Menon said the 2004 decision was not to accept foreign participation in relief but to use it for long-term rehabilitation. "If (my) memory serves (me right), the 2004 decision was not to accept foreign participation in relief but accept it for for long term rehabilitation case by case," he tweeted in response to Rao's comments.
"No rescue teams needing hand-holding and interpretation but yes to rebuilding houses, bridges, roads... A way forward for Kerala?" he stated. Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, concurred with Shiv Shankar Menon.
He said in a tweet: "You are correct. We said no to relief but accepted support for rehab. Also, one must distinguish between normal aid and help in disaster in terms of a more humanitarian need.”