After dragging their feet in releasing disaster funding, refusing foreign aid and ignoring the plight of survivors, the centre has now has now asked Kerala govt to pay Rs. 33 crore for services rendered during the worst deluge of the century. Why is BJP trying to overrule the constitutional provisions of federalism?
Thiruvananthapuram: Is BJP trying to overrule the constitutional principles of federalism? The recent news may make people believe so. The Kerala government has received a bill of over Rs. 33 crore to be paid to the Controller of Defence Accounts, and this includes the airlift services provided by the Indian Air Force during the massive deluge in August this year.
Kerala, which suffered a loss of Rs 31,000 crore during the floods in August, Thursday wanted the Centre to expedite the promised assistance to enable it to rebuild the state, a report said.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the state had received only Rs. 2,683.18 Crore in its Distress Relief Fund and was finding it difficult to gather resources for the ‘re-build Kerala initiative.’ He said the state has to pay Rs. 290 crore to the Centre towards the rations received and rescue assistance provided during the floods.
“Air Force have asked the state to pay over Rs. 33.79 crore as the charge incurred for the rescue efforts during the deluge,” Vijayan told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
Kerala had sought assistance of Rs. 5,616 crore through two memorandums. And Rs. 2,000 crore as an emergency fund. But, the Centre has allocated only Rs. 600 crore as an emergency fund, the Chief Minister wrote.
It is not the first time that the NDA has ignored the plight of natural disaster survivors. It even went ahead and refused the aid given by UAE and Thailand. Union minister K J Alphons had appealed for a "one-time exception" to the 14-year convention to allow overseas assistance, notably from the United Arab Emirates(UAE) in August.
"Kerala has contributed huge amounts of foreign exchange through remittance in the last 50 years. In fact, in the last year itself, it had brought Rs. 75,000 crore... For these reasons, as a junior minister I am appealing to my senior colleagues to make a special consideration for the state. I appeal to them to make a one-time exception to the policy," Mr Alphons told PTI in Delhi.
The flood relief granted by the central government is still proving to be inadequate. The centre has sanctioned a paltry Rs 100 crore, a minuscule amount compared to what was given to Jammu and Kashmir (Rs 1000 crore in September 2014 and Rs 426.83 crore in February 2015), Bihar (Rs 500 crores in August 2017), and North East (Rs 2350 crores including Rs 300 crores and Rs 250 crores for Assam in 2017.)
There was a delayed response in the release of funds for rescue and relief operations in the state from the central government.
“The Centre is assisting the civilian administration in rescue work through the deployment of 52 rescue teams of central forces, including units of the Army and the Navy, and has pressed 339 motorised boats, 2,800 life jackets, 1,400 lifeboats, 27 light towers and 1,000 raincoats into service,” a report said.
The Rs 100 crore relief fund released by the Centre when the state asked for immediate assistance of Rs 1,220 crore was not enough when the first appeal for help was made.
Relief for Gujarat, Assam and Bihar but not for Kerala and Bengal
The same central government gave a better package to Gujarat, Assam and Bihar, all three where the BJP is a part of the government when they were struck by floods.
“Flood waters swept across several places in the country on July 25 last year, killing two in Rajasthan and forcing Gujarat to declare a high alert. A week later, the heavy deluge would kill another 222 people. Prime Minister’s reaction to the disaster in his home-state (Gujarat) was prompt. A day after the deaths, he announced an interim relief package of Rs. 500 crore and he undertook an aerial survey of the flood-hit areas with Chief Minister Vijay Rupani,” a report by News18 said.
“From June 13 to August 3 this year, Assam battled floods that came in two waves and killed 41 people. Nearly 11 lakh people in seven districts of the state were affected. Jitendra Singh, Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, PMO office, announced Rs 340.4 crore as an interim flood relief package for the state—Rs 239.40 crore by way of the first installment of central share of State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and Rs 101 crore as the contribution from the Ministry of Northeast (DoNER),” the report said.
“In Bihar, flash floods in several rivers—Gandak, Burhi Gandak and Bagmati, Kamla, Kosi and Mahananda—killed as many as 514 people and affected another 1.71 crore people across 19 districts of North Bihar from August 12 to August 20 in 2017. The deluge was a result of torrential rains in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal and other adjoining areas in the catchment area of major rivers in the state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted an aerial survey of four affected districts—Purnea, Katihar, Kisanganj and Araria—with the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and announced Rs 500 crore as immediate relief for the state besides Rs 2 lakh each to the kin of those who died in the flood,” the report said.
It only released less than 10 per cent of the estimated damage in Kerala. The flood was one of the worst since 1924 and the death toll in August had reach 370. 20,000 houses were damaged and 10,000 kms of roads destroyed. 15 bridges were reported to have collapsed and 211 landslides had occurred due to the heavy rain and floods according to a Sabrang India report from August.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati accused the Modi government of giving a step-motherly treatment to flood-hit Kerala and demanded that the calamity be declared a "national disaster". The centre also dragged its feet in declaring the floods a national disaster.
“The BSP leader said that Kerala was suffering huge losses, both of life and property, in the worst floods in nearly a century. But despite demands for more funds and help, the central government was turning a blind eye to the crisis. "The BSP condemns in the harshest words such petty politics by the central government and the BJP,” she said in a report.
In addition to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Assam and Odisha are among states badly hit by floods.
Leaders in several of these states have sought more funds, but central government sources said many are yet to use the money they already have.
The Trinamul Congress and the BJD separately accused the central government of giving preference to the BJP-ruled Gujarat and Assam in providing assistance for damage caused by floods while remaining apathetic to the case of Bengal and Odisha.
In a report by Sudhir Patnaik in Sabrang India in 2001, a super cyclone ravaged Odisha but was not provided aid equal to Bhuj, Gujarat after the earthquake there.
“The Orissa Disaster Mitigation Mission has estimated the total loss to be not less than Rs. 20,000 crore, the same as the officially estimated loss caused to Gujarat now. However, the Orissa government, while appealing to the Centre made a request for an assistance of Rs 7,000 crore only. How much did the Centre actually pay? So far, only Rs 828 crore and 15 lakh. It may sound unbelievable but that is the truth,” the report said.
“Prime Minister AB Vajpayee issued almost a blank cheque to Gujarat. At least this was the version the media carried. Immediate assistance of Rs 1,300 crore was released to Gujarat by the Centre. Besides, the Prime Minister made an appeal to FICCI, CII etc to adopt all affected villages in Gujarat,” the report added.
“The most significant initiatives of the Centre were the 2 percent surcharge on Income Tax and Corporate Tax and the temporary removal of Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) provisions by the home ministry to enable free inflow of foreign funds for earthquake relief. The other policy initiatives of the Centre included, the formation of a 39–member Central Disaster Mitigation Authority, (which does not include anyone from Orissa), steps towards a Disaster Mitigation Act and the formation of a Disaster Mitigation Commission on the lines of the Election Commission of India,” the report said.
“This brings into focus the point that the BJP leadership of the Centre has made a direct assault on the spirit of Indian federalism and democracy by behaving differentially in similar situations. Since the super cyclone of Orissa has become part of history for those who neither witnessed it nor experienced its painful aftermath, it may be useful to recollect what was it all about,” the report said.
Punishing states that didn’t vote BJP?
“Indian central government is inhumanely using this crisis as an occasion to settle political scores and boost the obscene propagandist agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They are explicitly punishing people of Kerala for not allowing their divisive and communal hate agenda to get hold in this small state,” Pramod Puzhankara wrote in Sabrang India.
To deny the people help in the time of their greatest need is cruelty.