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Centre can’t shirk responsibility while dealing with drought: Supreme Court

The bench also issued directives for updating the drought management manual - published in 2009 — after taking into account rainfall deficit, timely declaration of drought and other factors.

drought, supreme court, supreme court drought, drought centre, SC Drought, centre drought , supreme court drought centre, centre drought supreme court, drought gujarat, drought haryana, bihar drought, india news Drought: Issuing the string of directions on a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, the top court reproached the Centre for its failure to ready the national plan even after 10 years of the Disaster Management Act coming into force.

RULING THAT “the buck will eventually stop with the Government of India”, the Supreme Court Wednesday directed the Centre to consider drought as a disaster and constitute a national response force along with a consolidated fund within six months to deal with drought situations.

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and N V Ramana also issued directives for updating the drought management manual – published in 2009 — after taking into account rainfall deficit, timely declaration of drought and other factors like dry land farming, water harvesting, drip irrigation etc.

“Humanitarian factors such as migration from affected areas, suicides, extreme distress, the plight of women and children are some of the factors that ought to be kept in mind by state governments in matters pertaining to drought and the Government of India in updating and revising the manual. Availability of adequate foodgrain and water is certainly of utmost importance but they are not the only factors required to be taken note of,” said the bench.

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Issuing the string of directions on a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, the top court reproached the Centre for its failure to ready the national plan even after 10 years of the Disaster Management Act coming into force.

“Evidently, anticipating a disaster such as a drought is not yet in the ‘things to do’ list of the Union of India and ad hoc measures and knee-jerk reactions are the order of the day and will continue to be so until the provisions of the Disaster Management Act are faithfully implemented… risk assessment and risk management also appear to have little or no priority as far as the Union of India and the state governments are concerned,” it said.

It said the Centre could not shirk its responsibility by stating that it was for the state government concerned to declare drought and that the Union government had a limited role since the Act placed a “considerable responsibility” on them to assist the states and help them with valuable inputs.

“The Union of India has certainly to maintain a delicate and fine balance between federalism and its constitutional responsibility, and that it must do, otherwise it is ultimately the common person who will suffer and be in distress because of a situation not of his or her making,” said the court.

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While noting that whether or not to declare a drought could neither be a judicially manageable exercise nor could definite standards be fixed, the bench said the judiciary will still intervene and pass necessary orders since scores of lives are involved.

It held that declaration of drought is not a complicated affair but a manageable exercise, which could have appropriate conclusions based on scientifically drawn data, which required use of modern technology to make an early determination of a drought or drought-like situation after doing away with “colonial methods and manuals that follow a colonial legacy”. The court added it was not necessary to declare drought for the entire state and that it should be so declared for districts or some villages too.

Criticising the state governments in Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana for an “ostrich-like attitude” to drought-hit areas, the bench underlined that a delayed declaration of drought particularly affected women and children while also putting an undue strain on the resources of the states. It asked the agriculture secretary to convene a meeting within a week with the chief secretaries of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana to review the drought situation.

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First published on: 12-05-2016 at 00:20 IST
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