Foreign Aid For Kerala
By Dr S.Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
Latest political controversy containing multiple issues within one major issue relates to refusal of financial aid from the Government of United Arab Emirates by the Government of India for relief and rehabilitation work in flood hit Kerala. Pressure for accepting the offer of aid is building up and a case for distinguishing humanitarian assistance from other forms like military support is made.
It is turned into a legal constitutional issue as a former Kerala Minister has moved the Supreme Court accusing the Centre of “turning its back” on the people of flood-ravaged Kerala. The Minister invoked Article 142 of the Constitution, under which the Supreme Court may pass such decree and make such order as is necessary for doing “complete Justice” in a cause or matter pending before it. The petition seeks Supreme Court’s direction to the Union Government to allow foreign aid for relief and rehabilitation work. The petitioner contended that refusal of foreign aid is against the National Disaster Management Plan of 2005.
Conflicting reports are circulating about offer of aid and reaction of governments and leaders. Foreign aid, even in times of crisis, is not just a humanitarian gesture, but involves a complicated relationship as a donor and client.
Kerala Chief Minister said the UAE offered Rs.700 crore financial assistance for the State’s post-flood reconstruction efforts. The amount exceeding the amount granted by the Government of India as initial payment by 100 crore of rupees has become a subject matter for criticism of the government.
The Government of India has decided to decline the aid from any foreign country despite the loss being enormous and said it would depend on “domestic resources” for providing relief and rebuilding Kerala in keeping with the decision taken in 2004 and followed thereafter.
However, a clear official policy is not proclaimed. Meantime, certain other countries like Qatar, Maldives, and Saudi Arabia have also offered assistance, and Pakistan too has expressed willingness to extend any humanitarian assistance.
The State Government has asked the Centre to provide a special package of Rs. 2,600 crore to meet the massive relief and rehabilitation work. Out of 14 districts in the State, 11 are affected by flood. Surging rivers and landslides have damaged roads, bridges, and buildings. Standing crops are destroyed; and enormous loss of material goods of residents and public properties has taken place.
The Kerala Chief Secretary filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court giving details of the loss and misery caused by flood. He stated that 774 villages out of the total of 1,564 in the State (about 50 per cent) were inundated, and over one-sixth of the State population of 3.48 crore were directly affected.
International agencies cannot rush aid to any country without the consent of the government of the recipient country. Therefore, offer of aid from the UAE cannot be accepted by Kerala unless approved by the Government of India.
Keralites have a special relationship with Middle East countries where they seek and find jobs in all sectors. Over 2 million Indian migrants mostly from Kerala are estimated to be living in UAE, largely in the three major cities — Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah constituting about 27 per cent of the total population of UAE.
Non-resident Indians are substantially contributing to the wealth of UAE by their labour and expertise. It is due to this background situation that UAE has figured as an important donor to respond quickly to help Kerala.
India has the distinction of being on top for receiving foreign remittances. It is estimated to be about $69 billion in 2017. Highest amount of $15.69 billion was received from UAE. Remittances from Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar were estimated to be $ 2.95, 2.61, and 2.29 billion respectively in 2017. There is a village in Kerala known as Dubai village where at least one member from every household is said to be working in the Middle East. No wonder, Kerala government and people nurture some special attachment with these countries — something that others may not share.
Still, government to government relation is a different matter; and receiving and offering aid has no link with seeking employment or hiring manpower. The essential difference between the two situations seems to have been missed by panic-stricken critics.
Material and financial aid is not a simple matter of give and take. In times of crisis in any part of the country, people have shown exemplary courage and willingness to engage in relief and rehabilitation work.
In refusing foreign aid for disaster relief, India is only following recent practices and policy decisions. In 2004 tsunami, UPA government in India declined to accept aid from foreign governments and international agencies and decided to rely on self-support. Once the crisis was over, assistance was taken for rebuilding through agencies. During Uttarakhand and Kashmir flood, the country again manifested self-reliance.
The row over reported aid from UAE has taken different forms. It is related to Central aid to a State – an aspect of Union-State relation; it is an issue of a BJP Government at the Centre and Left Front Government in Kerala — part of inter-party relationship; it also provides a point of contention between leftist ideology and the rightist which is prone to perceive conflict wherever there is difference of opinion. Internationally, it is a policy matter that contains long-term foreign relationship with donor countries – an issue that must be handled by the Union Government.
Suddenly, a new turn has appeared with the report that the UAE has not officially announced any financial aid and that it would come out with its plans in the next few days.
There are many countries that take a policy decision of refusing aid to fight national calamities. Recently, Venezuela, despite high inflation, serious flood, and medical shortage refused to accept assistance sticking to its policy of taking assistance only when disaster overtakes local capacities. Thailand, Myanmar, and Chile have at times declined to receive assistance after disaster. Even Nepal rejected continued Indian assistance during flood despite being a close neighbour.
The general idea is that receiving assistance for chronic crisis can create aid dependency. When the crisis is partly man-made or becomes acute because of human interventions in natural formations, seeking assistance will not yield a permanent solution. The trouble is that people who suffer from disasters may not be the people who contribute to the cause of calamities. This makes it difficult to be idealistic on aid policy and sermonize to victims – people or government.
Aid from foreign countries used to come with strings attached during the post-War world. It was different from aid from international agencies. International relations are changing, but recipients of aid always have to guard against any expectations in return in this period of global economy.
To impute motives in the stand of the government like “pride” in remaining self-reliant or “prejudice” against the State in need is sheer politics that fails to understand the intricacies of the nation’s foreign policy.—INFA