The central government Tuesday told the Supreme Court that more than one-third of India’s districts are affected by severe drought, raising the court’s anxiety over steps being taken by the the Centre and state governments in providing imminent relief.
Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha informed a bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur that 256 of 675 districts in the country have been declared drought-hit.
The law officer added that at least 33 crore people in these 256 districts are affected by drought. “Is that not more than 25 per cent of the total population of our country?” said the bench. The ASG said the total population affected by drought has been arrived at by taking into account the individual population of each district. Narasimha also said more than 130 talukas in the country have been declared drought-hit.
The government’s submission prompted the bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana, to take stock of the relief measures as it questioned the ASG over the Centre’s preparedness to handle the situation. It also underlined that three central statutes — MNREGA, Food Security and Disaster Management — must be implemented properly to ensure people are able to survive the situation.
The court expressed displeasure over the method of “eye estimation” at local levels to submit reports on whether a region is badly affected by drought due to lack of rainfall. “What is this eye estimation business? You have to take help of technology now. You cannot leave it to the eyes,” said the bench when it was apprised of the usual method of conducting survey on crop loss.
Narasimha said there has been no backlog of funds by the central government to states in assuring relief for drought, and that the court must acknowledge the “limited role” of the Centre in such matters. He added that more than Rs 19,500 crore has been released for wages under MNREGA and a new scheme, National Electronic Fund Management, has been put in place in at least 10 states to ensure wages can be directly deposited in the accounts of beneficiaries.
The ASG pointed out that in a federal structure, whether or not to declare drought is within the domain of a state government and that the Centre has to act accordingly. “If this court feels that the three statutes are not being followed and that a drought should be declared, it may issue a mandamus and it would be for the state concerned to decide whether or not it wants to contest such an order. We, as the Centre, have a very limited role,” Narasimha said.
During the hearing, the Gujarat government was pulled up for not submitting details on drought and disbursal of funds. “Just because you are the state of Gujarat, you cannot take things lightly. You must file all reports,” said the court, giving the state two days to do so. The matter will be taken up next on April 26. The bench is hearing a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, which has sought various directives from the court to help drought-hit regions in the country and to ameliorate the condition of farmers.
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