As the row over foreign aid for flood-ravaged Kerala escalated, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had in 2016 suggested assistance offered as a goodwill gesture "may" be accepted by India, bolstering the stand taken by Chief Minister Pinarayi there is no blanket ban.
With the Centre drawing flak from the opposition parties and others for invoking a policy decision taken by the Manmohan Singh government in 2004 in the aftermath of the Tsunami for not accepting foreign aid, Union minister K J Alphons tonight appealed for an "one time exception" to the 14-year convention to allow overseas assistance, notably from the United Arab Emirates(UAE).
"Kerala has contributed huge amounts of foreign exchange through remittance in the last 50 years. In fact in the last year itself, it had brought Rs 75,000 crore... For these reasons, as junior minister I am appealing to my senior colleagues to make a special consideration for the state. I appeal to them to make a one-time exception to the policy," Mr Alphons told PTI in Delhi.
Mr Alphons, who hails from Kerala, earlier in the day defended the Centre's decision, saying in refusing foreign aid for rehabilitation of the flood-hit state it has only followed the convention "inherited" from the previous governments of not accepting such assistance in the face of natural calamities.
Mr Vijayan and his ministerial colleague Thomas Isaac yesterday said India, by law, could accept financial aid voluntarily given by a foreign government in times of a severe calamity. They cited the National Disaster Management Plan.
Backing the chief minister, top diplomats and bureacrats who had serving during Manmohan Singh's tenure as prime minister suggested that the 2004 decision was not cast in stone.
Mr Isaac, the finance Minister of the Left-ruled state, flayed the Centre over the refusal of foreign aid and said the southern state had asked it for a financial support of Rs 2,200 crore, but was granted only Rs 600 crore.
"We make no request to any foreign government but UAE government voluntarily offered Rs 700 crore. No, says Union government, it is below our dignity to accept foreign aid.
This is a dog in the manger policy (sic)," Mr Isaac said on Twitter.
Mr Vijayan said last night there were no obstacles for accepting such assistance.
"Donations from other countries are acceptable. Will approach the Prime Minister if required," he told reporters.
Asserting it was natural two countries help each other, Mr Vijayan said the Disaster Management policy announced in 2016 makes it clear if any national government of another country voluntarily offers assistance as a good will gesture in solidarity with the disaster victims, the Central government may accept the offer.
The National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP), a publication of the NDMA, on planning framework for disaster situations, noted in its 2016 document that 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," says the NDMP prepared during the tenure of the current NDA government.
When asked for a comment on the NDMP, a home ministry spokesperson said: "At this stage, the ministry of home affairs has no comment to offer".
Yesterday, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India will not accept any assistance from foreign governments for flood-hit Kerala in sync with an existing policy.
He said the government was committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation in Kerala through domestic efforts.
A number of countries have announced assistance for flood relief operations in Kerala. While the United Arab Emirates has offered USD 100 million (around Rs 700 crore), Qatar has pledged around Rs 35 crore and Maldives has announced a donation of USD 50,000 (Rs 35 lakh).
The Kerala government is keen to accept the donations from the UAE.
CPI(M) Kerala state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the Centre should make changes in the convention to get Kerala assistance from foreign countries.
In a Facebook post, he termed as "wrong" the Centre's decision to refuse UAE's aid offer.
"The refusal to accept foreign assistance is an act of vengeance," Mr Balakrishnan said.
Congress termed the centre's decision as "disappointing."
AICC general secretary and former chief minister Oommen Chandy has shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to modify rules, if any, to facilitate foreign funding for rebuilding the state.
Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, the national general secretary of the CPI -- the second biggest constituent in the ruling Left Democratic Front government in Kerala -- accused the Centre of "standing on false prestige" on the issue of foreign aid at times of natural disasters.
Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Adviser in Manmohan Singh's government, tweeted that the 2004 decision was "to not accept foreign participation in relief but accept it for long term rehabilitation case by case."
(Kerala has to rebuild itself after the worst floods in over a century. Hundreds have died and lakhs are homeless. Here is how you can help.)
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