Centre assures swift action on Karnataka’s drought relief plea in Supreme Court

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NEW DELHI: The Centre on Moday informed the Supreme Court that its will resolve expeditiously issues related to the Karnataka government’s plea seeking financial assistance for drought relief and said that something will happen by April 29.

Attorney General R Venkataramani, representing the Centre, apprised the court that the Election Commission has allowed the Union government to deal with the issue and something will happen before next Monday (April 29). He also apprised the bench of justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta it will be done expeditiously and no argument is needed now.

Justice Gavai, observing the federal structure, remarked that this has to happen amicably. The court adjourned the matter for further hearing on April 19.

The court was hearing the Karnataka government plea seeking financial assistance for drought relief. The Karnataka government was represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal. The Karnataka government, in the plea filed through advocate D L Chidananda, urged the top court to direct the Centre to forthwith take a final decision and release the financial assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to the state.

The plea also sought to declare that the action of the government in not releasing the financial assistance for drought arrangement as per the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) is ex-facie violative of the fundamental rights of the people of the State of Karnataka guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

The Karnataka government said that the impugned action of the Central government in denying financial assistance to the state is ex-facie violative of the fundamental rights of the people of Karnataka guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. Further, the impugned action of the Central Government is violative of the statutory scheme of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Manual for Drought Management and the Guidelines on Constitution and Administration of the State Disaster Response Fund and National Disaster Response Fund, the state government said.

Karnataka government submitted that under the Manual for Drought Management, the Central Government is required to make a final decision on the assistance to the State from the NDRF within a month of the receipt of the Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT).

The plea said that Karnataka is reeling under severe drought, affecting the lives of its citizens. “For the Kharif 2023 season as a whole, after fulfilling all the Indicators of the Manual for Drought Management 2020,a total of 223 out of 236 taluks are declared as drought-affected during Kharif 2023 with 196 taluks categorized as severely affected and the remaining 27 categorized as moderately affected.

The Southwest Monsoon (SWM) set in over the coast of Karnataka on June 10, 2023, as against the normal onset of June 5. The monsoon gradually advanced thereafter and covered the entire State on June 24, as against the normal coverage date of June 15. The delayed onset coupled with sluggish progress of SWM during June resulted in Malnad districts and North interior Karnataka districts with large agriculture land recording large deficit rainfall,” the petition said.

“After strictly adhering to the procedure outlined in the Manual for Drought Management-2020, Karnataka notified 223 out of 236 taluks as drought-affected. Cumulatively for the Kharif 2023 season, the agriculture and horticulture crop loss have been reported in more than 48 lakh hectares with the estimated loss (cost of cultivation) of Rs.35,162 crore. The State Government has sought Rs.18,171.44 crore under National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), through three Drought Relief Memorandums submitted in September-November 2023 i.e., Rs.4663.12 crore towards crop loss input subsidy, Rs. 12577.9 crore towards gratuitous relief to families whose livelihood has been seriously affected due to drought, Rs.566.78 crore for addressing the shortage of drinking water relief then and Rs.363.68 crore towards cattle care. Crops have failed, and reduced water availability has affected domestic, agricultural, and industrial-hydel energy water supply,” the petition added.

Karnataka government said that agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for a large section of the State, hence present drought situation has damaged crops and affected livestock, leading to lower yields, reduced income for farmers, increased food prices and increased shortage of water in urban and rural areas as well due to reduced groundwater levels and shortage or no water storage in lakes as well as reservoirs.

“The total estimated loss due to crop damage in the State is Rs. 35,162.05 crore and the assistance sought from the Government of India under NDRF is Rs. 18,171.44 crore. In terms of the Disaster Management Act, of 2005, the Union of India is under obligation to render financial assistance to the state governments”, it said.

“However, despite the calamity being of a severe nature, despite the constitution and visit of an Inter-Ministerial Central Team(IMCT) in October for a first-hand assessment of the humanitarian needs towards response and relief of immediate/temporary nature, damages caused and relief work carried out by the state and submission of their report for allocation of funds from NDRF, despite the submission of the sub-committee of the National Executive Committee’s report for allocation of the funds under NDRF to the High-Level Committee(HLC) and despite repeated requests by the State, the Union of India has not convened the High-Level Committee to take action on the Sub-Committee of the National Executive Committee’s report on the Memorandums submitted by the State Government seeking financial assistance, which has impaired the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India to its people”, the petition said. (ANI)

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