The southern Indian state of Kerala is now looking to get back on its feet after two weeks of massive flooding. But extending relief to the state has now got deeply enmeshed in federal politics.
Kerala has lost over 200 people and suffered losses of over Rs21,000 crores ($2.85 billion), according to government estimates. The state, run by a communist party, is now desperate for material and monetary support. It sought around Rs2,200 crore in relief from the prime minister Narendra Modi-led central government, which granted only Rs600 crore.
This is now a subject of a heated debate in Kerala and across the country. All the more so after foreign governments, including those of the United Arab Emirates (the UAE), Qatar, and Maldives, offered substantial support to Kerala. The UAE, where a substantial number of Kerala natives live, alone has reportedly offered Rs700 crore to rebuild the state.
However, India has refused to accept any aid from governments abroad, citing a policy of self-reliance followed since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Central funds during such calamities come from the national disaster response fund, which is decided by the finance commission, according to professor Vinod Kumar Sharma, a consultant at the Indian Institute of Public Administration in New Delhi. The finance commission takes a call after looking at the performance of the affected state over the past 10-15 years, he said.
“In this case, Kerala is not a disaster-prone area…It hasn’t suffered that much loss that you need outside help. If we take outside help, we become as good as Bangladesh. It will set a very bad example,” Sharma told Quartz.
Yet, the Rs600 crore offered by the central government’s till now is only a fraction of what Kerala may require.
“Kerala’s aid is significantly low. Which could also be because the amount is not being raised at the level of a national emergency,” said Jayati Ghosh, economics professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
In any case, critics say nothing really prevents the government from accepting help from abroad. In fact, on Aug. 22, Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac tweeted:
Given the fractious debate, here’s a look at the major natural disasters since 2004 in India, and the quantum of central assistance to the affected states. The data below has been collated from India’s National Disaster Management Authority and various media reports from the time of these calamities.