UAE relief aid: Kerala still hoping for Centre’s nod

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Syed Al Nahian

Thiruvananthapuram: With water receding and more people returning home from relief camps, the Kerala government made a strong pitch for assistance and expressed hope that the Centre would accept the UAE aid “offer” of Rs 700 crore.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the state was facing the biggest calamity in 100 years, and preliminary estimate of losses comes around Rs 20,000 crore.

Kerala should be treated on a different yardstick for extending flood relief assistance as its huge loss cannot be compared with damage in any other state at any point of time, Vijayan said.

Giving a detailed account of the havoc caused by the devastating floods and landslides since early this month, he said the preliminary assessment of losses was around Rs 20,000 crore, which was equal to state’s annual plan size for 2018-19.

The state’s harvest festival ‘Onam‘ falls today, but this time around festivities will be the last thing on people’s minds as they come to grips with the devastation caused by the unprecedented deluge that claimed 231 lives.

Even after lakhs of people have returned home, there are still 8.69 lakh people in 2,287 relief camps across the state, officials said.

Amid a row over the Centre deciding not to accept any foreign donations for flood relief, officials at the UAE embassy in New Delhi yesterday said the UAE had not officially announced any financial aid for Kerala flood relief.

However, Vijayan claimed there was no lack of clarity on UAE aid for the flood-ravaged state and expressed hope the Centre would accept the “offer” of Rs 700 crore.

Vijayan said NRI businessman M A Yusfuf Ali had informed him about the aid. “When I asked him whether it could be made public, he said there is no problem in it,” the Chief Minister told reporters here after a meeting to review the post-flood situation and relief operations.

The UAE aid was communicated to Ali when he had met the crown prince to convey Bakrid greetings, Vijayan said.

Vijayan said the issue whether or not to accept the aid was a matter to be decided by the Centre. “I hope that this will be accepted,” Vijayan said replying to a question on the row.

There was no lack of clarity on the UAE aid to Kerala, he said. The Chief Minister said he had nothing more to add to what he had stated on 21 August about the aid and added it was a matter discussed by Crown Prince of UAE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Syed Al Nahian and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Both had informed the world about the aid issue, the Chief Minister said. Officials in UAE embassy in New Delhi said no specific amount for financial aid to flood-ravaged Kerala was finalised officially by the United Arab Emirates, and there was no announcement on donation to the state.

UAE ambassador Ahmed Albannam, without mentioning financial aid, said his government only set up a national emergency committee to provide relief assistance to people affected by flash floods in Kerala.

The gulf nation may come out with its plan in the next few days to extend assistance to flood victims, an official said.

In support of his stand that Kerala’s case was unique, Vijayan earlier said the state was densely populated, and the entire state had infrastructure facilities such as good roads, communication network and hospitals.

Hence, the loss suffered in the floods was huge in nature and was something which cannot be compared to the damage suffered by any other part of the country at any point of time, Vijayan said, urging that the state should be treated on a different yardstick for extending assistance.

Pushing for foreign assistance, Vijayan had said there was no blanket ban, and India, by law, could accept financial aid voluntarily given by a foreign government in times of a severe calamity.

In his statement yesterday, the Chief Minister said, “It is with a thankful heart that we take note of the fact that foreign countries ranging from the UAE to Qatar have come forward with their promise of assistance.”

Vijayan also mentioned about the immediate release of Rs 100 crore by the Centre and further interim aid of Rs 500 crore announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately after his aerial survey of flood-affected areas on 19 August.

The Centre has already released Rs 600 crore to the state. On rehabilitation and relief measures, he said the focus now was on taking care of those in relief camps.

To ensure that rehabilitation work goes on smoothly, it is essential to get the details of houses and shops destroyed at the earliest and the loss incurred by each individual has to be recorded correctly, he said.

The government was planning to utilise IT-enabled solutions to get relevant data, Vijayan said. Kerala has received donations totalling Rs 535 crore to help rebuild the state.