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If Pakistan could help after 2001 Gujarat quake why can’t UAE aid Kerala, some ask

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Vajpayee government even accepted aid from Pakistan after 2001 earthquake while UPA accepted money after 2004 tsunami.

New Delhi: The Modi government at the Centre has rejected foreign aid for flood-hit Kerala, on the ground that it doesn’t want the country to be seen receiving ‘hand-outs’ from nations abroad.  

“In line with the existing policy, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar was quoted as saying last week.

But this “existing policy” has actually changed over the years.

Since the turn of the century, the country has accepted foreign aid and assistance from several countries, including Pakistan, when it has suffered from natural disasters.

Also read: UAE should help Kerala on the ground, not just write a cheque

In 2001, when an earthquake struck Bhuj in BJP-ruled Gujarat, the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government accepted several offers of relief and assistance, both money as well as search and rescue initiatives. Pakistan sent three cargo planes full of tents and blankets for the victims.

Vajpayee wrote to the world at large asking for help for “the worst earthquake independent India has seen”. Surely enough, contributions came surging in from across the globe.

In 2004, when the tsunami hit large parts of Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, three years after the Bhuj earthquake, the then Manmohan Singh government accepted foreign monies but refused to allow foreign search and rescue teams into the country.

The government argued at the time that foreign personnel could have access to sensitive information on the ground. The Andaman and Nicobar are a listening post for India, because of their geostrategic proximity to Indian Ocean nations such as Myanmar and Indonesia.

“What the NDA government is saying about the UPA rejecting foreign money is wrong”, Sanjaya Baru, who was media advisor to PM Manmohan Singh, told ThePrint. “We never rejected the money. We rejected foreign relief and rescue”.

In other words, what was rejected was foreign participation alongside Indian forces in rescue efforts. “We accepted assistance for reconstruction and rehabilitation. Past policy has never prevented that from taking place,” he added.

According to M.K. Bhadrakumar, retired diplomat and foreign policy analyst, “The decision (to refuse assistance) was taken considering Tamil Nadu is home to several ports and a naval base. It was a small band which was affected by the flood — between 1.5 and 2 km. Plus infrastructure was intact”.

A case for Kerala

The latest controversy was stoked by media reports which said the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had offered Rs 700 crore for flood relief in the southern state, more than the Rs 600 crore that the Centre had set aside for the state. It has since been clarified that the Middle East nation had not arrived at a precise amount.

Kerala and the Gulf, and especially the UAE, share a unique equation. For decades, Malayalees have literally built Dubai’s skyscrapers. The state’s doctors, entrepreneurs as well as a blue-collar workforce have been the backbone of UAE’s modernisation. It is said that the Sheikhs often learn Malayalam, along with Arabic, as their first languages because Kerala’s women serve as nurses and wet nurses.

Also read: The billionaire NRI from UAE who gave Rs 10 crore to help Kerala flood victims

This relationship is now at the centre of a spat between Delhi and Trivandrum.

The Centre is quoting its 2016 National Disaster Management Plan, which articulates India’s stand on foreign assistance, to refuse the UAE aid. The plan clearly points out that India won’t ask for money but may accept foreign aid on a case-to-case basis.

Bhadrakumar said, “The NDMP categorically states that India will accept donations if countries volunteer to provide it”. The document is available here.

He added that Kerala is a prime case for an exception.  “India should accept donations, especially from the UAE since Kerala and the Gulf have such a special and historic relationship,” Bhadrakumar said. “There is also nothing wrong with accepting foreign assistance for the long-term”.

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  1. debate is meaningless when there is no offer. article tends to blame government on a non existent issue for malicious reasons. columunists have become a part of propaganda brigade.

  2. Some of the best diving talent that saved those young Thai boys and their coach came from abroad. After a major earthquake, people could be trapped beneath mounds of heavy rubble. Specialised teams and equipment from abroad could mean the difference between life and death. Humility, not hubris, when times are tough.

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