NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that if State governments maintained an “ostrich-like attitude” towards disasters like drought, the Centre has to take “far more proactive" and nuanced action as the “buck stops” with it in matters of common people.
A bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and N V Ramana said the problem was not a lack of resources or capability, but a lack of will.
“The Union of India has certainly to maintain a delicate and fine balance between federalism and its constitutional responsibility, and that it must do otherwise it is ultimately the common person who will suffer and be in distress because of a situation not of his or her making,” the bench said while passing a slew of directions for tackling the drought situation.
The bench said it was quite surprised that neither a national plan had been drawn nor there was a National Disaster Mitigation Fund even after 10 years of the enforcement of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
“Evidently, anticipating a disaster such as a drought is not yet in the ‘things to do’ list of the Union of India and ad-hoc measures and knee-jerk reactions are the order of the day and will continue to be so until the provisions of the Disaster Management Act are faithfully implemented,” it said, directing the Centre to formulate a national plan at the earliest.
Noting that around one-fourth of the total population of the country was affected by a drought-like situation, it also directed the Centre to establish a National Disaster Mitigation Fund in three months.
The bench said that if both the Centre and State governments failed to respond to a developing crisis, the judiciary could and must consider issuing appropriate directions but a Lakshman rekha must be drawn.
In an unsparing indictment, the apex court remarked that Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana hestitated to even admit there was a drought-like situation in these States. The court directed the Union agriculture secretary to hold a meeting within a week with the three chief secretaries in view of the available data and, if so advised, persuade the state governments to declare drought in whichever district, taluka or tehsil it was necessary.
The bench said that the Centre must insist on the use of modern technology for the early determination of droughts. The apex court also said that it was known in October 2015 that several districts in the three States were facing varying degrees of drought, no steps “appeared to have been taken to tackle a possible disaster”.
The apex court asked the Centre to constitute within six months a National Disaster Response Force. There is a need to revise the 2009 drought management manual, keeping in mind factors such as migration from affected areas, suicides and the plight of women and children, it added.