Accepting help

The clearest indication so far that India would turn down offers of financial assistance from foreign governments for relief and rehabilitation work in Kerala came on Wednesday. And yet, it only added to the confusion. The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said that “in line with the existing policy”, the Central government would meet requirements in Kerala through “domestic efforts”. Various governments have made specific offers to Kerala, from about Rs. 700 crore from the UAE to about Rs. 35 lakh from the Maldives. The spokesperson added that only PIOs, NRIs or international foundations could send money from overseas to the Prime Minister’s or Chief Minister’s relief fund. But as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan indicated, this clarity about existing policy is missing in the Central government’s National Disaster Management Plan. Put out in 2016, the Plan states that India will not appeal for foreign aid in the wake of a disaster. But it goes on to say: “… 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 condition applies that the Union Home Ministry would consult the MEA and assess the requirements “that the foreign teams can provide”. So, what exactly is government policy? Is it laid out in the NDMP document that has an opening message from Prime Minister Modi? Or is it based on the decision of the UPA government to refuse aid or assistance in the wake of the 2004 tsunami — a decision born out of a sense of false pride and a misplaced sense of shame — that became a sort of convention thereafter? It is not only this mismatch between convention and written document that has created space for the current controversy. Irrespective of what was agreed upon in the past, democracies should be supple enough to respond to emergencies in ways that benefit the greater common good.

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