This is not a ‘contest’, several States coming to court against Union, says Supreme Court

Karnataka said its request for financial relief from the Centre to tide over a ‘grave humanitarian crisis’ has hit a wall; Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka have petitioned the apex court on issues related to financial relief

Updated - April 08, 2024 07:05 pm IST

Published - April 08, 2024 04:37 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court said a steady stream of States are compelled to approach it against the Centre while cautioning the Union government against entering 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 B.R. Gavai, heading the Bench, addressed Attorney General R. Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, both appearing for 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 State’s southern districts. Likewise, Kerala filed a first-of-its-kind suit directly in the apex court, blaming the Centre for arbitrarily interfering in its net borrowing limits, pushing the State to the brink of a financial emergency.

Karnataka said its request for financial relief from the Centre to tide over a “grave humanitarian crisis” has hit a wall. The State had sought ₹18,171.44 crore under the 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 said.

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, and ₹363.68 crore towards cattle care.

“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,” the State of 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 National Disaster Response Fund.

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.

The court gave the two law officers of the Union government to take instructions and get back after two weeks.

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