India appears poised to reject offers of millions of pounds in foreign aid for the flooding crisis in the southern state of Kerala, instead relying on its own ability to tackle the enormous clean-up operation.
Kerala’s state government has estimated the losses from the flooding, which began on 8 August, will amount to £2.2bn-£2.7bn. Nearly 400 people have died and more than one million have been displaced from their homes.
In the wake of the disaster, the UAE, Qatar and the Maldives came forward with offers of financial aid amounting to nearly £82m.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted to thank the UAE’s prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whose offer made up the bulk of the total. He wrote: “A big thanks to @hhshkmohd for his gracious offer to support people of Kerala during this difficult time. His concern reflects the special ties between governments and people of India and UAE.”
But India will follow the precedent set in December 2004 when the then-prime minister Manmohan Singh refused international aid for the victims of a huge tsunami that killed more than 12,000 people. “We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own,” Mr Singh said at the time.
The language of Mr Modi’s tweet – giving thanks for the offer without explicitly accepting or rejecting it – follows the diplomatic playbook set since then. In the last 14 years, India has politely refused aid from the likes of the US, Russia and Japan following an earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 and floods in 2013 and 2014.
In response to queries regarding media reports on international assistance for flood relief measures, an official government spokesperson said: “The Government of India deeply appreciates offers from several countries, including from foreign governments, to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tragic floods.
“In line with the existing policy, the Government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts. Contributions to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund from NRIs, PIOs and international entities such as foundations would, however, be welcome.”
According to the Business Standard, a document has been circulated among those coordinating the recovery effort in Kerala advising them to direct all offers of foreign aid to the central government. “You may politely convey to your interlocutors that in the present circumstances, the government of India has taken a considered decision to rely solely on domestic efforts to tide over the challenge,” it adds.
Any Indian diplomats approached by foreign governments should “express gratitude… for their sentiments and offer, but [foreign officials] are to be politely told that the government has no requirement as of now [for aid]”, a senior official told the Indian Express.
Private offers of aid from individuals based outside India – not least from the large Keralan diaspora are still being welcomed, partly because they do not come with the same diplomatic implications.
Finance minister Piyush Goyal announced that the government was exempting customs duties and sales tax for consignments of aid and materials for Kerala from abroad, saying: “India stands with Kerala in this hour of need.”
And Mr Modi pledged Rs 5bn (£55m) of emergency funding to Kerala after he flew over the disaster-stricken region on Saturday. That was only a quarter of the Rs 20bn the state government had asked for in immediate aid, but the office of the chief minister nonetheless tweeted to “express our thanks to the centre for [this] assistance”.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, aid workers warned it could yet be days before the full scale of the damage from the flooding becomes known.
Unusually strong monsoon rains finally eased off earlier this week, but vast swaths of the tropical state, known for its idyllic villages and beautiful beaches, remain underwater or coated with mud, and many people have no drinking water or electricity.
“We know the humanitarian needs are enormous, but it will be some time before we know just how big that is,” Ray Kancharla, a manager with the aid group Save The Children, said in a statement.
Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala’s chief minister, sent out a message of greeting to those celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in such challenging conditions.
“The people of Kerala are in a great struggle to rebuild their lives after the flood,” he wrote on Twitter. “May this Eid be an inspiration for all of them.”