Centre seeks and gets a week from Supreme Court to do ’something’ about Karnataka’s drought worries

Supreme Court says this is a federal structure, disputes between Centre and States are resolved amicably

April 22, 2024 12:06 pm | Updated 01:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Attorney General R. Venkataramani informed the top court that the government would need one week for the discussions regarding providing drought relief to Karnataka. 

Attorney General R. Venkataramani informed the top court that the government would need one week for the discussions regarding providing drought relief to Karnataka.  | Photo Credit: P.K. Badiger

The Supreme Court on April 22 reminded the Centre and Karnataka about the need to amicably resolve differences that arise in a federal structure, even as the Union government assured that “something will be done” to resolve the drought worries of Karnataka in a week’s time.

“Resolve this amicably. We have a federal structure. Both the Union and the States are equal partners,” a Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and Sandeep Mehta addressed Attorney General R. Venkataramani, for the Union and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented Karnataka.

On April 8, in the previous hearing, the Supreme Court had questioned the Centre about the steady stream of States moving the court against the Union government. Recently, the Tamil Nadu government accused the Centre in the Supreme Court of treating the people of the State in a “step-motherly” fashion by delaying the release of disaster relief funds to the tune of nearly ₹38,000 crore to help tide over the twin calamities of cyclone Michaung and unprecedented floods in the southern districts. Likewise, Kerala filed a first-of-its-kind suit directly in the Supreme Court, blaming the Centre of arbitrarily interfering in its net borrowing limits, pushing the State to the brink of a financial emergency.

‘Let there be no Centre-State contest’

The court had asked why the Union government had sought to enter into  a “contest” with water-starved Karnataka over its request for drought relief.

“Let there be no contest here between the Union and the State… We are seeing various State governments having to appear in court,” Justice Gavai had said on April 8.

On April 22, Mr. Sibal said the State was ready to wait a week.

Mr. Venkataramani said the Centre had to solicit the concurrence of the Election Commission of India before dealing with Karnataka’s issues owing to the fact that the Lok Sabha elections were on.

‘Grave humanitarian crisis’

In its petition, Karnataka has said that its request for financial relief from the Centre to tide over a “grave humanitarian crisis” has hit a wall. 

The State sought ₹18,171.44 crore under National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) six months ago, only to be met with silence. The total estimated loss due to crop damage in the State is ₹35,162.05 crore, the petition said.

The State, represented by advocate D.L. Chidananda, said it is reeling under severe drought, affecting the lives of its people. “For the Kharif 2023 season (the season starts in June and ends in September), a total of 223 out of 236 taluks are declared as drought-affected, with 196 taluks categorised as severely affected and the remaining 27 categorised as moderately affected. Karnataka as a whole recorded -56% deficit rainfall in June, which was the third lowest in the last 122 years for the State.

The State government had submitted three drought relief memoranda under various heads, including ₹4,663.12 crore towards crop loss input subsidy, ₹12,577.9 crore for gratuitous relief to families whose livelihood has been seriously affected due to drought, ₹566.78 crore for addressing shortage of drinking water relief then ₹363.68 crore towards cattle care.

‘Fundamental rights’

“The State is duty bound to affirmatively protect the fundamental rights of its people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India… The action of the Central government in denying the financial assistance to the State is ex facie violative of the fundamental rights of the people of Karnataka guaranteed under Articles 14 (right to equality), 21 (right to life) of the Constitution,” Karnataka said in its petition.

The State argued that the action of the Centre was 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 the NDRF.

The State said the Centre, under the Manual for Drought Management, was required to take a final decision on NDRF assistance to a State within a month of the receipt of the Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT). However, nothing has happened for the past six months.

“Despite the IMCT report, which visited various drought-affected districts from October 4 till October 9, 2023, and made a comprehensive assessment of drought situation in the State and consideration of the report by the sub-committee of the National Executive Committee constituted under Section 9 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Centre has not taken a final decision on the assistance to the State,” the petition said.

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