Kerala wants Centre to allow foreign aid (Lead)

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Thiruvananthapuram : India's refusal to accept foreign aid for relief work in flood-battered Kerala has touched a raw nerve, with leaders of political parties in the state pressing the Centre to review the decision.

The state's ruling CPI-M and the opposition Congress expressed unhappiness over the Centre's stand, with former Defence Minister A.K. Antony saying that the rules should be changed to accept foreign donations.

The issue snowballed following reports that the Centre was averse to taking help from foreign governments following a stand taken by UPA government on not accepting such donations because the country had the capacity to cope up with natural disasters.

On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where most of expatriates are from Kerala, had offered $100 million or Rs 700 crore as aid to the state to overcome the devastation caused by the worst floods in nearly a century.

Thailand's Ambassador to New Delhi tweeted about India not accepting overseas donations for flood relief in Kerala.

"Informally informed with regret that the government of India is not accepting overseas donations for Kerala flood relief. Our hearts are with you, the people of Bharat," Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi said.

The Maldives and Qatar also reportedly offered donations for the state where the death toll stands at around 370 and where over one million people have taken refuge in more than 3,000 camps.

Wading into the issue, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media that if needed, he would talk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, he said, had tweeted his welcome to the UAE's gesture.

He said according to the National Disaster Policy of 2016, foreign funds can be accepted and so it should not be a problem.

"As I understand, the UAE on its own has proposed this aid. The UAE cannot be considered as any other nation as their rulers have underlined," Vijayan said in an interview to the Indian Express.

"Indians, especially Keralites, have contributed immensely in their nation building," he said.

State Finance Minister Thomas Issac said he was surprised the Centre was blocking the UAE's financial aid to the flood victims when it had extended only Rs 600 crore so far.

"We asked for Rs 2,000 crore, they (Centre) could give us only Rs 600 crore. I don't know why they should deny some other government's help", he told NDTV news channel.

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy also expressed unhappiness that the Centre had reportedly refused to accept monetary help offered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"I am sorry that the financial assistance announced by the government of India is quite disappointing as far as the magnitude of the crisis is concerned," Chandy said in a letter to Modi.

He said Kerala was expecting reasonable monetary help to overcome the crisis.

"It is a great relief to the people of Kerala that so many kind hearted persons and social organisations across the country and abroad consider this disaster as their own matter (and) offered unbelievable help to us for managing this tragedy," added Chandy.

He urged Modi to remove obstacles against acceptance of foreign financial aid.

Antony, who is also a former Chief Minister, asked the Modi government to rewrite the rules so that financial support can come from abroad for Kerala.

"If the rule was changed by the previous government, I have no qualms to say that the Modi government should rewrite it," he told the media.

It was during the first Congress-led UPA government that the rules was altered that financial assistance from foreign countries should not be accepted after natural disasters.

"It must not be forgotten that with a huge Kerala diaspora working in the Middle East, the governments in those countries have an emotional bonding with Kerala. That's why the UAE government responded so quickly. Likewise we will be getting assistance from the UN and other agencies too. So any law that has to be amended must be done," said Antony.