New Delhi: India on Wednesday publicly declined all offers of aid from foreign governments for relief assistance for the devastating floods in Kerala, asserting that it was “in line with the existing policy”.
India does have long-standing policy of declining all offers of foreign aid in the face of natural disasters. But the news of the UAE’s offer of Rs 700 crore for flood relief had potentially complicated the routine process of saying ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
In a late night statement on Wednesday, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that India “deeply appreciates offers from several countries, including from foreign governments,” to provide assistance for relief and rehabilitation efforts in Kerala.
Declining these offers, he stated, “In line with the existing policy, the Government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts”.
He added that contributions from non-resident Indians, persons of Indian origin, international entities like foundations to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund “would, however, be welcome”.
This was the first official statement since Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on August 18 tweeted his thanks to the UAE prime minister for his offer of help:
A big thanks to @hhshkmohd for his gracious offer to support people of Kerala during this difficult time. His concern reflects the special ties between governments and people of India and UAE.
While it is not clear what “gracious offer” Modi was referring to, UAE Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had earlier that day tweeted the news of his government’s initiative to form a committee to coordinate relief for Kerala and that the offer of relief would be from both the Indian community and the UAE government:
UAE and the Indian community will unite to offer relief to those affected. We have formed a committee to start immediately. We urge everyone to contribute generously towards this initiative.
On Tuesday, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced at a press conference that the Abu Dhabi crown prince had told Modi that his country was willing to contribute Rs 700 crore to help the state recover from the floods which have devastated it.
“Today morning, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, informed our prime minister about their contribution for Kerala and this was conveyed to me by M.A. Yusuf Ali (who owns Lulu Supermarkets),” he said.
The Abu Dhabi crown prince confirmed through a tweet – just after midnight on Wednesday India time – that he had spoken to the Indian Prime Minister. “Our relief and charitable institutions are helping with relief efforts,” he posted on his official Twitter account.
Maldives has also announced a donation of $50,000 as a “token contribution in solidarity with the people of India”. However, official sources said they were unaware of any offers of assistance from United Nations.
Since the 2004 tsunami, India has had a long-standing policy of not accepting any foreign assistance for natural disasters. The logic was that there is enough domestic capacity to deal with any disasters and their aftermath. This policy has been strictly adhered to so far. Indeed, other than relatively small sums from Germany and Japan, the only external assistance India still receives is from multilateral sources. India, General (Retd) V.K. Singh told parliament in reply to a question last year, ” is currently a net donor of foreign aid. In the last three years, India has provided more aid to foreign countries, than it has received.”
The last time that the ministry of external affairs had to publicly deal with foreign aid offers was in July 2013, during the Uttarakhand floods.
To a Russian offer of help, the then MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin had reiterated 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”.
“And for a variety of reasons we have not also in the past too, unless there are specific circumstances, been able to accept offers of assistance for rescue and relief,” he said on July 3, 2013, politely rejecting Russian the offer of assistance.
Following the Kerala chief minister’s press conference on Tuesday, government sources had asserted that this policy continues to be in force even now.
On Tuesday evening, Thailand’s ambassador to India, Chutintorn Gongsakdi, posted on his Twitter account that India had “informally” conveyed that overseas aid from governments will not be accepted.
Informally informed with regret that GOI is not accepting overseas donations for Kerala flood relief. Our hearts are with you the people of Bharat. https://t.co/b4iyc3aQez
— Ambassador Sam (@Chutintorn_Sam) August 21, 2018
Some Kerala journalists have circulated an extract of an unsigned note which appears to provide talking points to officials on the issue of offers of external assistance and which notes that “the Government of India has taken a considered decision to rely solely on domestic efforts to tide over the challenges”.
However, the way in which the UAE’s proposed assistance was made public has complicated the scenario somewhat. Modi thanked the UAE for its “generous offer”, Vijayan then put a figure on it but there has been no official word from Abu Dhabi yet.
New Delhi was unlikely to accept this offer as it came as a figure the UAE authorities seek to give to India, but due to the political implications, the routine consultations had gone beyond the bureaucratic corridors of the ministry of external affairs.
The UAE prime minister had tweeted in Malayalam on August 17 and English the next day urging “everyone to donate generously” towards relief efforts in Kerala. He also said that the UAE had formed a committee along with the Indian community to offer humanitarian assistance. If the Rs 700 crore figure is the target set for this sort of crowd-funding effort, then the money raised in this fashion would not be affected by the Indian government’s policy of not accepting overseas aid since the policy applies to official aid.
The MEA spokesperson also made it clear on Wednesday that individuals and foreign entities could also give donations to the official relief funds.
Donating and remitting money most efficient and helpful way of assisting the flood affected in Kerala says Amb @navdeepsuri drawing attention of expat Associations to observe UAE law for raising funds. @TheNationalUAE @thegulfnews @IndianDiplomacy @drshamsheervp @CMOKerala pic.twitter.com/L8k4XfdaAc
— India in UAE (@IndembAbuDhabi) August 21, 2018
The Indian mission in UAE has, meanwhile, urged donations to be given in cash, rather than in kind, to the Kerala chief minister’s disaster relief fund.
The article has been updated following the statement issued by the ministry of external affairs on August 22.