Kochi/Hyderabad/New Delhi: Opposition parties, including the Congress and CPI(M), today trained its guns on the Centre asking it to remove obstacles in accepting foreign aid for rain-ravaged Kerala, including Rs 700 crore offered by the UAE, even as government justified the stand. Union Minister Alphons Kannanthanam defended the Centre’s decision, saying in refusing foreign aid for rehabilitation of the flood-hit state, the government has followed a 14-year convention it “inherited” from previous governments of not accepting such assistance in the face of natural calamities. Joining the issue, CPI(M) Kerala state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said 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,” 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 flood-ravaged state. “The decision is quite disappointing to the people of Kerala. Rules should be as such to eradicate the sufferings of the people. If there exist any obstacles against the acceptance of foreign financial aid, kindly look into the matter seriously and bring suitable modifications,” he said in his letter.
The Communist Party of India today said if the Centre wants to reject the Rs 700-crore offer of the UAE to Kerala, it should give a Rs 2,600-crore interim assistance as sought by the southern state for flood relief operations. 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.
He said when a country faced a natural calamity, it was normal for other nations to offer aid, and recalled that India had helped Nepal and Bangladesh in such situations in the past and even made an offer to Pakistan when there was an earthquake in the neighbouring country. “In such circumstances, we can accept from the UNO and the UAE…whoever supports unconditionally without strings.
..we should accept it,” Reddy told PTI in Hyderabad. Justifying the stand of the Centre, which is under fire for refusing aid for Kerala from countries like the UAE and Thailand, Alphons said this was a policy that was followed by the current government since former prime minister Manmohan Singh had refused aid from foreign countries in 2004 during the devastating Tsunami. “A policy decision was taken by the Manmohan Singh government in December, 2004 in the aftermath of the Tsunami and that policy has been continued with for the last 14 years. This is something we have inherited,” he told reporters in New Delhi.
Earlier, among others, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had flayed the BJP-led government over the refusal of aid and said the rain ravaged southern state had asked the Centre 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),” Isaac had written on Twitter.
He had further said as part of the state government’s resource mobilisation efforts for ongoing relief-and-rescue operations for the flood-hit people, it had increased the excise duty on liquor and was geared to approach the GST Council for imposing a 10-per cent cess on SGST. “Both together on annualised basis mobilise ?750 crore (sic),” Isaac had written on the microblogging website. The state has suffered an estimated loss of Rs 20,000 crore (as per a preliminary estimate) and had sought an interim assistance of Rs 2,600 crore from the Centre, besides a special package of a similar amount under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA).