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

It is summer once more, and the entire country is in the grip of severe drought-like conditions. The measures adopted by the drought-hit states as well as the Centre are proving to be highly inadequate.

On top of it all, a blame game rages on. It is in this perspective, that the Supreme Court of India reprimanded both the states and the Centre for their callous attitude towards the calamity. The Apex Court said if the state government adopted an “Ostrich like attitude” (turning a blind eye) towards the problem, then the Centre would not be in a position to “wash its hands off” on issues pertaining to Article 21 of the Constitution.

This is because ultimately the welfare of the masses rests with the Centre. An SC bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and N V Ramana added, “…but at the same time, we do not suggest that the authority of the state government to declare a drought or any other similar power is diluted.” The Apex Court while issuing instructions on how to effectively combat a drought like situation urged the Centre to maintain a delicate and fine balance between federalism and its constitutional responsibility.

If the Centre did not adhere to this, then “it is ultimately the common person who will suffer and be in distress because of a situation not of his or her making,” the Judges concluded. The Bench went on to add that, if Centre and state governments fail to respond to a developing crisis or a crisis in the making then the judiciary “can and must” consider issuing appropriate directions but “a Lakshman rekha”(inviolable rules) must be drawn. In its 53-page judgement, the Court quoting Bal Gangadhar Tilak said, “The problem is not lack of resources or capability, but the lack of will.”
According to the Bench the “lack of will” is evident in Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana since these states were reluctant to even acknowledge, let alone address, a possible drought-like situation or a drought by not disclosing full facts about the prevailing conditions in these states.

The SC was not astonished that neither was a National Plan drawn up nor was there a National Disaster Mitigation Fund even after 10 years of the enforcement of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Noting that nearly one-fourth of the country’s total population was hit by drought-like situation, the Apex Court directed the Centre to establish a National Disaster Mitigation Fund within three months.

It also asked the Centre to formulate a National Plan “at the very earliest and with immediate concern.” The Bench urged the Centre to make use of modern technology for early determination of drought or a drought-like situation. “There is no need to continue with colonial methods and manuals that follow a colonial legacy.

It is high time that state governments realize the vast potential of technology and the Government of India should insist on the use of such technology in preparing uniform State Management Plans for a disaster,” it concluded.

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