SC tells States to disburse drought relief immediately

Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court on Friday directed States to appoint food commissioners to oversee effective implementation of Public Distribution System to tackle the drought crisis. Observing that the States cannot hide behind the lack of funds to not act on the drought crisis. The court also directed that the mid-day meal in schools should be given throughout the summer season in drought-affected areas.

The court told the Centre to set up a Central Employment Guarantee Council as provided in the statute and that the Centre should release outstanding funds for MNREGA.

However, the spex court refused to appoint Court Commissioners to implement its directions.

On Wednesday, the court said that Bihar,Gujarat and Haryana were hesitant to even acknowledge, leave alone address, a drought or a drought-like situation.

In a scathing 53-page verdict on the “lack of will” shown by the Centre and States in combating drought and saving lives, SC pronounced the Centre guilty of “washing its hands of” a national disaster that consumed one-fourth of the country. It also pulled up Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana for adopting an “ostrich-like attitude” towards declaring drought and driving their own people to suicide, starvation and mass migration.

Centre’s Drought Management Manual

Centre’s drought crisis management plan explains that relief measures must be implemented by States with its active cooperation. According to the Drought Management Manual brought out in 2009, a drought is assessed on five parameters.

1. Availability of drinking water

2. Availability of irrigation water

3. Availability of fodder

4. Availability of food grains

5. Energy sector requirement

In 2015, the Centre released a comprehensive Drought Crisis Management Plan.

Read with the crisis management plan, the manual explains that relief measures must be implemented by State governments with the Central government’s active cooperation.

The manual sets out four important measures that a State government should take at the time of a drought, with the Union government’s help.

1. It should use the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to provide immediate employment to drought-affected people.

2. The public distribution mechanism should be strengthened to provide food and fodder as a measure to sustain the rural economy.

3. The government should initiate actions to recharge the groundwater table by building check dams and providing pipeline water and other irrigation facilities.

4. The government should either waive off or defer farmer loans and arrange for crop loss compensation.

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