The Central government seems to have finally decided not to accept any foreign aid to help Kerala, which is facing the aftermath of a terrible disaster, the likes of which it has not faced in the past nearly 100 years. The entire country is helping the state with money and essential materials. The Malayali diaspora has rushed in with massive aid. All this and more is definitely helping the state government meet the requirements of food, clothes, medicines, sanitary items etc. for nearly ten lakh people who are living in various relief camps.
However, the government needs a massive amount to rebuild the state – roads, bridges, buildings, houses all have collapsed in most parts of Kerala, which has faced excessive rainfall, floods and landslides. The state government has estimated the loss at Rs 21,000 crore – the amount may increase once the extent of the damage becomes clear. The monetary assistance received from the Centre currently stands at Rs 600 crore and it’s not yet clear how much more it will give. Past experience indicates the likelihood of a mismatch between the amount demanded and what is actually given. If this happens, the southern state is looking at great suffering in the coming months.
In this context, the issue of foreign aid for disaster relief assumes importance. Unfortunately, it has acquired political overtones. Offers have come from the UN, Japan, UAE and even Pakistan, but Centre’s refusal has put a doubt over the quick rehabilitation of people in disaster-hit Kerala.
While declining foreign aid in the face of a natural disaster is “in line with existing policy” of the government, the present establishment has no qualms about accepting foreign contribution for funding political parties. In fact, an amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 through the Finance Bill 2018 exempted political parties from scrutiny of funds they had received from abroad since 1976. One of the objects of this Act was to ban political contributions from foreign sources, but the present government has lifted that ban. The result is that any amount of money can flow into the coffers of political parties from foreign sources. When funds can be received from foreign sources for political activities, why not accept some foreign aid for rehabilitation?
Further, chapter IX of the National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP), unveiled by Prime Minister Modi in May 2016, has this to say about accepting foreign assistance in times of a disaster:
“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”
The offer of aid by the UAE, Japan and other countries is voluntary and is a goodwill gesture in solidarity with the disaster victims. Therefore, as per its own policy, the Union government may accept the aid offer, of course as per its own discretion.
Additionally, India is a signatory to the Sendai Framework, a UN initiative meant for disaster risk reduction. The aim of the framework is “substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries”. This goal is to be achieved between 2015 and 2030.
The emphasis of the framework, adopted by all UN member states in 2015, envisages synergised efforts by countries to cope with disasters in any part of the world. India, in fact, framed a law on these lines – the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Under this very Act, the NDMP, which institutionalises and structures the entire disaster management in the country, was notified in 2009. With the provision of a three-tier structure, the Act lays down the duties and responsibilities of the Union, states and districts in managing disasters. Co-ordination among these three units is central to disaster management. The national policy framed under this Act elaborately deals with the whole gamut of activities to be undertaken by the state in case of disaster. What is noteworthy is that the Act also provides for giving aid and other support to countries which face disasters:
“…provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters as may be determined by the Central Government.”
A major thrust of the law on disaster is on the preparedness of the governmental agencies to face natural calamities. But it has been found that most state governments are caught unprepared when a disaster hits. Which is what happened in Kerala as well. If all the required steps had been taken in time, the extent of damage could have been limited.
At this point in time, Kerala’s legislative assembly has the responsibility of overseeing the massive rehabilitation work in the state. Thus, a monitoring committee of the assembly can be formed by the speaker, representing members from all political parties. Assembly’s involvement in this process will go a long way in ensuring that help reaches the needy.
P.D.T. Achary is a former secretary general of the Lok Sabha.