South AsiaDisaster relief controversy

Did Delhi reject a UAE offer of $100m to help flood-hit Kerala?

A row has erupted over the Modi government's stance on foreign aid and whether the prime minister dismissed a generous offer of help from the ruler of Dubai to victims of the flood in the far south

August 24, 2018 7:01 PM (UTC+8)
Indian PM Narendra Modi meets Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates in Dubai in August 2015. Photo: AFP / WAM / Ho

Did the United Arab Emirates (UAE) really offer US$100 million in monetary aid for flood-hit Kerala? People in the far south are keen to know, as there have been reports that this amount of aid was discussed by heads of state over the phone, but there has been no statement to clarify this from the UAE government. And it has sparked a major row between the Kerala state government and their federal counterparts.

State Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan revealed the UAE’s offer of $100 million in financial aid last Tuesday. While holding a press conference, Vijayan announced at that the UAE government had come forward to help flood-hit south.

“The help has been conveyed by the UAE Councils to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Today morning [August 21], Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, informed our prime minister about their contribution for Kerala and this was conveyed to me by Yusuff Ali M.A [who owns Lulu Supermarkets],” he said. “They have decided to provide $100 million as financial aid for flood-hit Kerala.”

On August 17, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, tweeted that the UAE and its Indian community would offer relief to those affected by the flooding. “We have formed a committee to start immediately. We urge everyone to contribute generously towards this initiative.”

On August 18, Modi tweeted his thanks to the UAE prime minister for his offer of help: “A big thanks to @hhshkmohd for his gracious offer to support people of Kerala during this difficult time. His concern reflects the special ties between governments and people of India and UAE,” the tweet read. But he was not clear on what the gracious offer was.

Three days later, the UAE’s official website reported and confirmed that HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, discussed the devastation caused by the floods in Kerala during a phone call with the Indian Prime Minister. “During the call, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed expressed his sincere condolences and sympathy to the Prime Minister and discussed the relief efforts under way,” the report added. However, again the report also did not mention the $100 million in aid.

On Wednesday night, the Abu Dhabi crown prince also confirmed through a tweet that he had spoken to the Indian Prime Minister. “Our relief and charitable institutions are helping with relief efforts,” he posted on his official Twitter account. Here also, the $100 million offer was not mentioned.

So, neither the tweets nor the reports had any mention of the financial aid from the UAE. Yusuff Ali M.A, the businessman who conveyed the $100 million UAE offer to the Kerala Chief Minister, has not posted anything on it either. The UAE’s ambassador to India also confirmed in a statement that the offer was not a formal one.

Modi govt ‘rejected foreign aid’

Meanwhile, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac slammed the Modi government’s attitude in a  tweet, suggesting that it had dismissed a generous and badly needed offer of foreign aid:

“We asked Union Gov for financial support of Rs 2,200 crores [approx. $286 million]; they grant us a precious Rs 600 crores [$85 million]. We make no request to any foreign gov but UAE gov voluntarily offer Rs 700 crores [$100 million]. No, says Union gov, it is below our dignity to accept foreign aid. This is a dog in the manger policy,” his tweet read. (The ‘dog in the manger’ reference is from a fable about a dog in a stable full of hay that doesn’t allow other animals to eat).

Late on Wednesday, the national government clarified its position in regard to foreign aid. A statement uploaded that night on the Ministry of External Affairs website said: “The Government of India deeply appreciates offers from several countries, including from foreign governments, to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tragic floods in Kerala.

“In line with the existing policy, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts. Contributions to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund from non-resident Indians, persons of Indian origin and international entities such as foundations would, however, be welcome,” the statement read.

India has had a policy since the tsunami in 2004 of not accepting any foreign assistance for natural disasters. Other than relatively small sums from Germany and Japan, the only external assistance India still receives is from multilateral sources.

Last year India’s Minister of State at the External Affairs Ministry, General (Retd) V.K. Singh, told parliament, in reply to a question, that India is currently a net donor of foreign aid: “In the last three years, India has provided more aid to foreign countries than it has received.”

India as an aid giver

In fact, India is now an enthusiastic internal aid-giver and first responder. It has extended assistance to the Philippines, Myanmar, Nepal, and even sent an Air Force plane with 25 tons of relief to Arkansas in the US for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, an Air Force plane also delivered relief material to victims in China.

The last time that the Ministry of External Affairs had to publicly deal with offers of foreign aid was in July 2013, during the Uttarakhand floods. After a Russian offer of help, the External Affairs spokesperson at the time, Syed Akbaruddin, said: “As a general policy in cases of rescue and relief operations, we have followed the practice that we have adequate ability to respond to emergency requirements.

“And for a variety of reasons we have not also in the past too, unless there are specific circumstances, been able to accept offers of assistance for rescue and relief,” he said on July 3, 2013, politely rejecting the Russian offer of assistance.

India then made it clear to both the US and Japan, which offered $200,000 for relief in Uttarakhand, that it would not accept the aid and any funds should be given to non-profit groups that foreign governments might favor.

Official disaster management policy welcomes aid

However, the National Disaster Management Policy released in 2009 clearly says that the central government will also help to coordinate with UN agencies, international organizations and foreign governments in disaster management, with External Affairs and Home Affairs ministries facilitating any external cooperation.

According to the chief minister, Kerala will need $3 billion to rebuild damage from the massive flood. However, the central government has provided only $85 million.

“Offers” of assistance from the UAE, Qatar, Sharjah and the Maldives amount to $105 million – as Qatar has also offered $5 million, Sharjah $572,000 and the Maldives $50,000. Meanwhile, Kerala has received cash assistance amounting to $28 million from other states.

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