POST TIME: 2 September, 2018 11:41:28 AM
The waters have receded but the controversy has not
The challenges of rehabilitation and reconstruction are huge but more importantly rehabilitation is not possible in areas prone to landslides
Kumkum Chadha

The waters have receded but the controversy has not

The floods in Kerala that ravaged lives, property and lot else took a heavy toll. On August 21, when the monsoon took its fiercest form, it was nothing short of disaster.  By the government’s own admission, the disaster has claimed nearly 500 lives. In fact, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is on record to state that this flood is the worst ever to hit the state in the century.
Nearly 15 lakh people were shifted  to relief camps though the number is steadily coming down. Many others moved to their relatives’ homes when their houses got flooded. Free kits containing essential items like rice, atta, sugar and clothes are being distributed.
The chief minister has also said that the  economic impact of the floods was immense with a large number of small and medium-scale enterprises being heavily affected by the floodwaters. The agricultural production of the state has also been hit, with 57,000 hectares of crops damaged.
The gravity of the situation can be assessed from the fact that the State Assembly began its one-day special session to discuss the rehabilitation of victims and reconstruction of infrastructure even as it explored the feasibility of environment-friendly constructions while rebuilding the flood-ravaged Kerala. The state government is looking towards the centre for relief and even while it is trickling in, more help is expected after the final assessment of damages is done.

The challenges of rehabilitation and reconstruction are huge but more importantly rehabilitation is not possible in areas prone to landslides and floods.  Roads and bridges have been destroyed on a large scale. Procuring raw materials for construction works is an issue.  Livelihood restoration is essential for bringing back people to normal life. The economy is virtually at a standstill.

The nation seems to stand together in this hour of crisis and  people from across the country have come forward  to help the people of Kerala who are trying to rebuild their lives bit by bit following the devastation that took place less than a fortnight ago. By available estimates, Kerala has  suffered damages of nearly about Rs 20,000 crore, even while these are expected to multiply ten times over.

Help has come in different forms beginning with food, medicines, clothes and money.

The chief minister distress relief fund (CMDRF) has crossed the Rs 1,000 crore mark. It stood at  Rs 1,026 crore on Thursday with 4.76 lakh people making  online contributions. The break-down of the donations range from Rs 145.17 crores through electronic payments; Rs 46.04 crores made through UPI and Rs 835.86 crores  through direct deposits and cheques. Corporates and private banks have adopted villages for rehabilitation.

However, it is the Central government that is in the eye of a storm. This is on to counts: One because of the extent of monetary relief it has given and two because it spurned the offer of accepting aid from a foreign country.

The Modi led government has so far allocated Rs 600 crores to the flood ravaged state against the demand of Rs 2200 crore. Kerala and politicians cried foul and alleged that the aid was far short of what was expected. This however led the Modi led government to explain

that the 600 crore given to flood-hit Kerala was only "advance assistance" and more funds would be released after another assessment by an inter-ministerial team.

The state government, ruled by the Left,  is also at loggerheads with the Centre following its refusal to accept help from other countries. The United Arab Emirates reportedly offered assistance amounting to some 700 crores that the Indian Government politely refused in sync with its policy of not accepting help from other countries. This angered Kerala, both the government and its people, and accused the centre of depriving it of foreign funds. Other countries have also offered help but India has not accepted foreign aid. The Government has taken a decision to rely on domestic efforts to tide over the crisis.

Politics is at full play with the Congress asking  the Modi government to rewrite the rules so that financial support can come from abroad for flood-hit Kerala.

There is an unwritten policy that has been followed since 2004 of India not accepting foreign aid towards disaster funds. The Congress was then in power therefore for the same party to now criticise the BJP for follow a laid down policy is bit of a stretch. Had the BJP government done so, the Congress, in all probability would have cried foul and damned it for going to other countries with a “begging bowl” as it were. In any case, unless necessary, foreign aid is a complete no-no and India is well equipped and financially sound to take care of its people and calamities without looking to the outside or depending on external aid.  Self respecting Indians are in sync with the government’s policy and feel that the government and the country is capable of handling the disaster, this neither being the first nor the last in the life of a nation. Therefore, this is not about money or the ability to rebuild Kerala. That is a given.

The debate should be about India’s preparedness, in this case the lack of it, in comprehending possibilities of such disasters and often caught napping especially after the Indian Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) issuing a red alert a week before disaster struck. Even while the blame game is on, there is need to look within and assess where the slip up was and how to prevent it in future rather than shifting focus to trivialities.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)