UAE’s $100m aid to flood-hit Kerala caught in federal policy tangle?

Hours after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offered $100 million towards Kerala flood relief on Tuesday, questions were raised in local media on the propriety of accepting it.

It has been India’s unwritten policy since 2004, when the country was hit by tsunami, not to seek bilateral financial aid from other countries during disasters. When the northern state of Uttarakhand was struck by severe floods in 2013, India declined US offer of $150,000 aid.

In fact, instead of taking aid, India had been playing the donor whenever natural disasters struck anywhere in the world.

On both the occasions of aid refusal mentioned, India was ruled by Congress-led government. Now a coalition government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power. Media is clueless on how the federal government views the aid. If UAE is offering the amount as loan, the federal government may agree.

The Kerala government is in need of aid as the cost of flood may be much more than the estimated $2.7 billion. If Kerala wants the $100 million offered by UAE, it has to get the approval of finance and external affairs ministries.

It is no surprise that UAE, which is second home for many Malayalee expatriates, offered $100 million towards Kerala flood relief. Announcing it in the state assembly, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the aid offer was conveyed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Vijayan expressed his thanks to UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Vice-President Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on behalf of the people of Kerala for their offer of assistance.

The federal government has already sanctioned $107 million as emergency aid to Kerala plus 50,000 tonnes of rice and wheat.

On Monday, the home ministry declared Kerala floods as ‘a calamity of severe nature’ after considering its intensity and magnitude.

The federal announcement came after the joint secretary of the home ministry told the high court in an affidavit submitted on Monday that Kerala floods cannot be declared as a ‘national disaster’ since there is no legal provision for such a classification.

Opposition parties have been demanding the federal government to declare Kerala floods a ‘national disaster’. Such a term has no meaning other than its popularity, the joint secretary said.

Vijayan told media late on Monday that whatever designation is given to the calamity, the state government wants more federal funds and he hoped Modi would keep his word.

In another development, authorities said the Cochin International Airport may resume operations from August 26.

Water has drained off from the runway, taxiway and parking bay and workers are removing mud left behind by floods. Some minor repair works are going on at the runway.

Once the airport resumes operation, more medical teams from outside could easily reach relief camps set up in Ernakulam, Alapuzha, Idukki, Kottayam and Thrissur districts. Some 12 teams of doctors are expected to arrive in the coming days.

Over 850,000 people affected by floods are sheltered in various relief camps across the state.