As the row over foreign aid for flood-ravaged Kerala escalated, the National Disaster Management Authority 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 on Thursday appealed for an 'one time exception' to the 14-year convention to allow overseas assistance, notably from the United Arab Emirates.
"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," Alphons told PTI in Delhi.
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.
Vijayan and his ministerial colleague Thomas Isaac on Wednesday 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.
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)," Isaac said on Twitter.
Vijayan said on Wednesday 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, 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, 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'.
On Wednesday, 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 UAE has offered $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.
Communist Party of India-Marxist 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,' Balakrishnan said.
Congress termed the centre's decision as 'disappointing'.
'Centre to give more funds; Rs 600cr only advance assistance'
Meanwhile, the Centre on Thursday said Rs 600 crore released two days ago to flood-hit Kerala was only the advance assistance and additional funds would be released when an inter-ministerial team visits the state again and assesses the damage.
'It is clarified that Rs 600 crore released by Centre is the advance assistance only. Additional funds would be released from NDRF on assessment of the damages as per laid down procedure,' the statement said.
On Tuesday, the central government had released Rs 600 crore to flood-hit Kerala as promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Rs 500 crore) and Home Minister Rajnath Singh (Rs 100 crore) during their visits to the state.
The home ministry said during the floods in Kerala, the Centre has provided urgent aid and relief material in a timely manner and without any reservation.
The situation has been regularly monitored by the PM on daily basis and he visited the state on August 17-18, 2018.
On his instructions, the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), under the chairmanship of the cabinet secretary, regularly monitored and coordinated rescue and relief operations by holding daily meetings from Aug 16-21, 2018.
Pak offers humanitarian assistance
Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said Pakistan stands ready to provide any humanitarian assistance to flood-ravaged Kerala as he sent best wishes to those affected by the devastating deluge.
Khan, who took the oath as Pakistan's Prime Minister last week, took to Twitter to express his support to the people of Kerala.
'On behalf of the people of Pakistan, we send our prayers and best wishes to those who have been devastated by the floods in Kerala, India. We stand ready to provide any humanitarian assistance that may be needed,' Khan said in a tweet.