India open to all foreign aid on COVID-19

Akhilesh Suman

File photo: PM Narendra Modi

File photo: PM Narendra Modi

The Government has decided that the Prime Minister Care fund will accept financial aid from any country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed all ambassadors to popularise the fund as much as possible.

“You can’t compare this situation with any natural disaster. It’s a special situation so rules of acceptance of outside fund in calamity situation has been changed,” a senior official of External Affairs Ministry told Rajya Sabha TV.

Prime Minister Modi addressed the ambassadors on Monday evening via video conferencing.

“PM Cares is an open invitation to all India lovers who may be NRIs, OCIs or non Indians. Even Foreign governments can donate money to the account. There is no bar and you can’t compare it to any other situation,” said the official present at the video conferencing!

Prime Minister Modi also tasked Indian missions to ensure the welfare of citizens stranded because of Covid-19-related restrictions.

He stressed the need to forge collaborations to find solutions to the pandemic, in technical or financial ways .

This was the first such time that Indian missions worldwide were coming together to discuss responses to the pandemic.

The conference is the latest in a string of virtual initiatives undertaken by the government to forge a coordinated response to the situation ariing from the Coronavirus. The Modi government used it to outline general directions to be taken by envoys.

“There was also a discussion on the many things we could get from the countries on the frontline. This includes joint research and collaboration, technologies, development of solutions, both therapeutic and vaccines, and testing and diagnostic kits,” the sources said.

Some 5,000 Indians are still stranded in Iran. Another pandemic hotspot Italy is home to an Indian diaspora of 180,000, mainly workers from Punjab.

The envoys briefed the Prime Minister on the situation in their countries, especially in nations such as the US, Italy, Iran, China, and South Korea.

Ten heads of mission from Beijing, Washington, Tehran, Rome, Berlin, Kathmandu, Abu Dhabi, Kabul, Male and Seoul, shared feedback in those countries on the “resolute measures taken by India to combat the pandemic”, an official statement said.

On China, while there was talk of some medical equipment being offered to India, the conference noted the extensive global demand for such gear.

The Indian side is also watching the situation in China, where the number of infections is going down and restrictions have been reduced against the backdrop of “new fears of imported transmissions and a second wave”.

The US, which has now recorded the largest number of infections – more than 120,000 – and more than 2,000 deaths, has offered India some aid, including laboratory systems for surveillance and testing.

It has also been supportive on issues raised by India, such as extending the visas of stranded students and travellers and expiring H-1B visas, the high level MEA sources said.

Sources noted the situation was still under control in United Arab Emirates which is home to some 3.4 million Indians. UAE has no lockdown and construction activities and the like are continuing. India is also working to keep supply channels open for LPG and energy.

Though some Indians were still trying to cross over from Nepal, the border had been shut and New Delhi is encouraging citizens to remain where they are.

The embassy in Kathmandu is assisting stranded Indians and India is looking at ways to assist Nepal through the Covid-19 Emergency Fund of Saarc and other means.

India also is concerned about a small number of citizens in Afghanistan, where Covid-19 has spread after the influx of pilgrims from Iran .

It is also looking at the supply of food-grains to the war-torn country, which has few testing facilities. India is also looking to ensuring supply of food and other essential goods to the Maldives, where the tourism-based economy is at a standstill.

The official statement quoted Modi as saying that “extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions”, and that was why most of the world had quarantined itself even in this globalised era.

“This was an unavoidable step taken to fight this pandemic, but it was also hugely consequential, as the closure of the globalised system has had an extensive and far-reaching impact upon the international transport system, financial markets and the global economy,” he said.

PM Modi called on the envoys to take five specific steps:

Ensure health and safety of their teams and families

Attend to Indians in foreign countries at a time of uncertainty over international travel restrictions, identify best practices, innovations and scientific breakthroughs and sources for medical equipment

Ensure that commerce in essential supplies, logistics chains and remittances are unaffected and

Pay close attention to the evolving international political and economic situation in the context of the pandemic.

The Prime Minister said the heads of missions should address problems Indians might face abroad, and “suitably publicise the newly established PM-CARES Fund to mobilise donations from abroad”, the statement said.