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Declare Covid a natural calamity, let SDRF be used to help people affected by curbs, Uddhav Thackeray urges PM Modi

Officials said that the SDRF, which was constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, is the primary fund available with state governments when it comes to responding to notified disasters.

Written by Vishwas Waghmode | Mumbai |
Updated: April 15, 2021 7:42:20 am
Bombay High Court, Maharashtra government, Mumbai high court, Covid-19 drugs, Maharashtra news, india news, indian express, Maharashtra oxygen supply, Uddhav ThackerayMaharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

A day after announcing a financial package of Rs 5,476 crore for people of various sectors impacted by Covid-19 restrictions, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting that the pandemic be treated as a natural calamity and State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) be used to provide individual benefits to the affected.

Thackeray, while addressing the state on Tuesday, had said that for earthquake, heavy rainfall and flood, natural calamity is announced and individual benefits are given to the people affected. “We all have accepted this (pandemic) as a natural calamity. So, we are requesting the PM to give individual benefits that are given in natural calamities to the people whose livelihood has been impacted by the pandemic,” he had added.

Confirming that Thackeray has written to the PM, Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte said: “Though the pandemic is a calamity, it is yet to be defined as a natural calamity. So, individual benefits cannot be given as per the existing system.” He added that treating the pandemic as a natural calamity is a policy decision to be taken at the national level and the Centre has to take a call on it.

Officials said that the SDRF, which was constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, is the primary fund available with state governments when it comes to responding to notified disasters. While the Union government contributes 75 per cent towards SDRF allocation, Maharashtra contributes the remaining 25 per cent, said an official, adding that SDRF has around Rs 4,200 crore.

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An official said that at present, SDRF is being used for infrastructure building such as setting up Covid-19 centres as well as buying oxygen and medicines, among others. “But it can’t be used to provide individual benefits. If the Centre treats the pandemic as a natural calamity and finalises a methodology to decide on the category of affected people, then the state can give individual benefits to people.”

The official added that the affected people, who could be covered under the National Food Security Act, can be given Rs 100 per day during the period of restrictions. “Who have been affected can be decided based on the restrictions imposed from time to time since April 5. At present, it is difficult to calculate an estimated amount required for this purpose,” said the official, adding that this could be in addition to the Rs 5,476-crore package announced by the state.

As part of the Rs 5,476 crore relief package, the state government will supply 3 kg of wheat and 2 kg of rice per person free of cost for one month under the free foodgrain scheme to the beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act. Shiv Bhojan Thali would be provided free of cost for one month. The target is to provide 2 lakh thalis in a month. Also, Rs 1,500 each will be given to licensed hawkers, autorickshaw drivers and registered construction workers, among others.

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