In a verdict on the ‘lack of will’ shown by the Centre and States in combating drought and saving lives, the Supreme Court 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.
The Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and NV Ramana issued a slew of directions on tackling the drought situation on a petition filed by NGO, Swaraj Abhiyan. Among the steps it suggested were a National Disaster Response Force and a Disaster Mitigation Fund.
The PIL plea had alleged that parts of 12 States such as Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief. The court found that the total population in the districts affected by drought is about 33 crore.
“Can we afford to ignore the plight of such a large population?” the Supreme Court asked the government. It accused the Centre of taking refuge in the concept of “federalism” to pass the buck to the States for declaring and managing drought and providing only financial aid.
“The ostensible purpose of introducing this concept [of federalism] is to enable the Union of India to wash its hands of in matters concerning drought declaration and to give enough elbow room to a State Government to decide whether to declare a drought or not,” a Bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur observed in the verdict.