States hesitant to acknowledge drought: SC

The court was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking relief for drought-hit regions in the country.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:03 pm IST

Published - May 12, 2016 12:42 am IST - NEW DELHI:

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana were hesitant to even acknowledge, let alone address, a drought or a drought-like situation. They had not disclosed the full facts about the conditions prevailing in their States.

It was hearing a PIL filed by Swaraj Abhiyan seeking relief for drought-hit regions in the country.

In the case of Bihar, the Court said, two definite conclusions could be arrived at. First, the information provided by the State did not reflect the ground situation in districts or tehsils or blocks. Instead, it was intended to reflect the position in the entire State. “We have already mentioned that drought conditions may exist in a taluka, tehsil or block, but not necessarily in the entire district or State and that is why micro level information should be considered.”

Second, it was quite clear that there was deficit rainfall for the period June to September 2015 in 19 of the 38 districts in Bihar and the situation got progressively worse. If the coverage for the entire State in this period was considered, the deficit would be 27 per cent. By October 30, the deficit grew to 31 per cent.

The area under sowing was considerable during June and July, 2015, but the status of the Kharif crop thereafter was not disclosed. Was it is wilting due to deficit rain and low moisture or was there an adequate network of canals, ponds and bore wells? Also the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in August 2015 was generally good in most areas, except for some parts of Bihar. The situation at the end of September 2015 and thereafter was not known. The Moisture Adequacy Index (MAI) for Bihar showed that large areas were facing a moderate or mild drought as on 30th September, 2015.

“Under the circumstances, it appears to us that there is more than sufficient material to suggest that there is a perceptible threat of a mild or moderate drought in some districts, tehsils or blocks of Bihar. The unfortunate part of the exercise undertaken by us is that Bihar is in a state of denial,” said the court.

About Gujarat, the Court said its affidavit and contentions raised an important issue — should continued importance be given to the traditional method of drought assessment by following the ‘annewari’ system, rather than rainfall deviation? The manual prepared by Government of India would like to discard the ‘annewari’ system, but Gujarat continued to hold on to it.

“The system followed by Gujarat clearly does not meet with the approval of the manual or the guidelines. As noticed, drought was declared in 526 villages only on 1st April, 2016.” Thereafter, 468 more villages were declared drought-hit. Going by the manual and the guidelines, this was clearly too late for those in distress. The purpose of an early declaration of drought was to prevent it. But the route taken by Gujarat was palliative and relief-centric. “This is hardly of any advantage to those whose distress can be avoided,” said the Court.

In the case of Haryana, the Court observed: “We make no comment on the view expressed by Haryana, except to say that the disparity in the methodology of assessment of a drought or a drought-like condition between the Government of India and Haryana is quite stark.”

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