Karnataka Govt approaches SC seeking direction to Centre to release drought relief funds

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Cong government said Karnataka is reeling under severe drought, affecting the lives of its people and the Centre did not take any decision of funds even after six months of submission of report 

The Karnataka government has approached the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Union government's Ministry of Home Affairs to take a final decision and release the financial assistance from National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to the state for drought relief.

It also asked the court to declare that the action of the Centre in not releasing the financial assistance for drought arrangement as per the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) is ex facie violative of fundamental rights of the people of State of Karnataka.

The Union government has not convened the high level committee to take action on the sub committee of the national executive committee’s report on the memorandums submitted by the state government seeking financial assistance, which has impaired the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution to its people, it said.

The state government said this has happened despite the calamity being of a severe nature, the constitution and visit of an Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) in October for a first hand assessment of the humanitarian needs and repeated requests by it.

The state said it wanted to bring to the notice of the court a matter of "grave humanitarian distress" caused by drought in the state and seeks appropriate orders to mitigate the sufferings of the affected persons and livestock by directing the Union of India rendering financial assistance to the State. 

In a writ petition, the state government said it was aggrieved with arbitrary actions of the central government in denying the financial assistance for drought management to it under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the Manual for Drought Management updated in 2020 in terms of the directions issued by the Supreme Court in Swaraj Abhiyan Vs Union of India (2016).

The plea filed through advocate D L Chidananda contended the denial of the financial assistance to the State is ex facie violative of the fundamental rights of the people of Karnataka guaranteed under Articles 14, and 21 of the Constitution.

It pointed out under the manual for drought management, the central government is required to take a final decision on the assistance to the State from the NDRF within a month of the receipt of the Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT). 

However, "despite the IMCT report, which visited various drought affected districts from 4th to 9th October, 2023 and made a comprehensive assessment of drought situation in the State and consideration of the said report by the sub committee of the National Executive Committee constituted under Section 9 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, central government has not taken a final decision on the assistance to the State from the NDRF even after a lapse of almost six months from the date of the said report," it said.

The state government said Karnataka 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," it said.

The plea said deficit rainfall coupled with above normal temperature severely affected the standing crops in large part of rainfed areas. During the South West Monsoon season 2023, the State recorded only 33 rainy days out of 122 days, which is the 2nd lowest in the last 33 years.

"Cumulatively for Kharif 2023 season, the agriculture and horticulture crop loss have been reported in more than 48 lakh hectares with the estimated loss (cost of cultivation) of Rs 35,162 crore," it said.

The state government sought Rs 18,171.44 crore under National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), through three drought Relief Memorandum submitted in September-November 2023 ie, Rs 4663.12 crore towards crop loss input subsidy, Rs 12577.9 crore towards gratuitous relief to families whose livelihood has been seriously affected due to drought, Rs 566.78 crore for addressing shortage of drinking water relief then and Rs 363.68 crore towards cattle care. 

"Crops have failed, reduced water availability has affected domestic, agricultural, and industrial-hydel energy water supply. Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for a large section of State," it said.

The present drought situation has damaged crops, affected livestock, leading to lower yields, reduced income for farmers, increased food prices and increased shortage of water in urban and rural areas as well due to reduced ground water level and shortage or no water storage in lakes as well as reservoirs. The overall socio economic scenario is in distress and is evident from the relief measures being undertaken to mitigate fodder shortage and drinking water scarcities, it said.

Cause Title: State of Karnataka Vs Union of India & Ors