Kerala has been battered by monsoon flood waters; of course, the tragedy is also a big eye-opener for the ‘karela’ (bitter gourd) shaped southern state that invited the ecological disaster standing on the wrong side of nature since the 1970s, effecting high levels of deforestation.
The Gadgil committee had warned about major environmental setbacks a long time ago, but not many paid attention. However, this is no time for fault finding; the tragedy that has gripped the southern state calls for immediate disaster management.
So, what are the numbers so far? Over 400 lives lost; about seven lakh people have been shifted to 5,645 relief camps, and the total estimated primary economic loss has been pegged at between Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 crore. Those figures will keep changing and could end up being much higher than what is speculated now.
Furthermore, crop losses alone are estimated at Rs 20,000 crore; roads, airports and housing infrastructure have all been badly damaged. Tourism has taken a beating and will not be able to make a meaningful contribution to the state's coffers. Tax revenue will take a hit as businesses are shut, and consumption demand will be practically insignificant in the upcoming festive season.
The state government, which is not used to dealing with such a disaster, is struggling to chalk out a plan for immediate relief and long-term recovery. It has asked the Centre’s permission to hike the borrowing limit, tweaking the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) from three percent to 4.5 percent, along with a special package of Rs 2,600 crore. The Centre has offered Rs 600 crore so far and donations are flowing in from individuals and institutions from across the world.
But none of the aforementioned will help the state get back on its feet at least in the near future.
However, there is an unlikely subject that has come up for debate now and is slowly dominating the headlines. That’s on the Centre’s refusal to accept the UAE government’s aid of Rs 700 crore. The Narendra Modi-government doesn’t want to accept any foreign aid, including from the UAE, barring individual donations.
But the Kerala government wants the money, irrespective of whether it is from governments or individuals, and is planning to take up the matter with the Centre. If the Centre still says no to UAE's aid, Kerala wants the union government to compensate the state for an equal amount.
There isn’t much logic in the Centre’s refusal to accept UAE money for disaster relief in Kerala. If the southern state escalates the issue further, the Centre will have a tough time explaining as to why it won’t accept UAE's aid, or for that matter aid from any foreign government, since India’s stated policy to deal with such situations categorically permits this. According to the 2016 National Disaster Management Plan prepared by the National Disaster Management Authority of the Government of India, there are clear guidelines on accepting foreign aid in the event of severe natural calamities.
It states: “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.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, is required to coordinate with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, which is primarily responsible for reviewing foreign offers of assistance and channelising the same. In consultation with the concerned State Government, the MHA will assess the response requirements that the foreign teams can provide.”
This means, the Centre will have to find some strong reasons to convince the state concerned (in this case, Kerala) to deny foreign aid. For instance, the Centre can cite serious diplomatic issues with the country concerned, a probability of misuse of the funding channel that can be detrimental to national security or provide proof of the Centre’s own preparedness to meet the state’s funding requirement.
Given the situation that Kerala is battling, none of this will be easy for the Narendra Modi-led government, opening room for a centre-state tiff over the issue.
Considering the mammoth money requirement that Kerala faces, particularly needed to rebuild critical infrastructure, the Centre will do well in accepting foreign aid, to enable the battered state recover from the biggest tragedy of a century at the earliest, of course complying with the usual drills to ensure that the funding channel is not misused in any manner.
Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 13:58 PM