Onus is on States to declare drought, Centre tells Supreme Court

Asked whether it was washing its hands of the growing spread of drought-affected areas in the country, the Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that the onus of declaring drought rests entirely with the State governments, and it has only a limited role — of providing funds and putting in place a monitoring system.

“The power to declare or not declare a drought is completely vested with the States. The Centre has no role other than providing funds, if required, and placing a monitoring system. Once the drought is declared, incidental steps like providing money and relief works follow. The court can very well pass an order if it feels a State should have declared drought earlier,” Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha told a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and N.V. Ramana.

The Bench countered by asking Mr. Narasimha whether he meant that the Centre would refuse to take an initiative even if the problem of drought was grave and the apex court seized of the situation.

Mr. Narasimha centred his response to this on the federal structure of governance in which a democratically elected State government should take on the responsibility of analysing the ground situation in its drought-hit areas, sounding the alarm and implementing relief works if necessary. He said that the provisions of the Disaster Management Act could not be applied to all events of tragedy or loss.

The Centre objected to the court’s proposal to have a rapporteur conduct a field survey of the situation in the affected States, saying this would only add to the confusion and create a parallel government. The law officer instead suggested that the apex court itself monitor the situation by issuing mandamus.

This annoyed the apex court, which said “when we pass directions, you say we are encroaching. It is an overreach. If we don't do anything, the citizens would say we are not doing anything.”

In the previous hearing on a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan to declare drought as a national emergency, the court had slammed the Gujarat and Haryana governments for “hazy” presentation of facts and outdated charts on rainfall data.

The Bench had voiced its exasperation over the lack of updated data on rainfall and water scarcity, and asked the States if they were even remotely serious about people.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 1:31:22 AM |

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