Supreme Court pulls up Centre on drought relief; says you can’t turn a blind eye towards affected states

NEW DELHI: At a time when Maharashtra’s Marathwada region is reeling under severe drought and is facing an acute water crisis, the Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Centre and said that it cannot turn a blind eye towards the drought-hit states of the country.
Pulling up the Centre for its failure to release the funds to the states for MGNREGA scheme, the Supreme Court said, “Relief has to be provided now and not after one year.”

A bench headed by Justice M B Lokur said, “If you are not releasing the funds, then no one will like to work. States will say they have no funds, so they can’t pay anyone for MGNREGA work. No state will make any commitment to the people.”
Referring to the temperatures which have already soared to 45 degree celsius, the court said, “There is no drinking water, nothing is there. You have to do something and provide relief on time.”
It said as per government’s own figures, average workdays are 48, while the statute says it should be 100 days.
“We should realise that there is a problem. Nine states and now Rajasthan have declared drought. It is difficult to believe that there is no drought in Bundelkhand and Marathwada,” the bench said.
Additional solicitor general Pinky Anand informed the bench that Rs 7,983 crore will be released by the Centre in a couple of days towards wage liability, while Rs 2,400 crore material liability will be cleared in June.
She said that Rs 2,723 crore was being released as wage reliability for the drought affected states.
“This year also, you will face problems. Things will not improve unless you provide funds. One more state Rajasthan has now declared drought. Now the total drought-affected states have gone up to 10. Total of 256 villages in Gujarat have been now declared drought-affected,” the bench said.
“We are not targeting anybody. We are not targeting the officials. There are other ways of targeting. This is not an adversarial issue and everyone should come up with solutions. We are just trying to help the people,” the bench said while referring to the officials present in the court room.
The additional solicitor general further submitted that the Centre was trying to do everything possible to help the people in drought-hit areas but there were some constraints.
The court will continue hearing on Thursday.
On March 31, the apex court had asked the Centre to say how many states had drought management cells and why no district-level disaster management authorities have been set up.
It had suggested that the Centre, with the help of satellite data, should analyse the expected rainfall in the monsoon season and take effective steps to tackle drought-like situations on time.
The bench is examining various aspects of relief given to drought-hit farmers during the hearing of a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking urgent implementation of guidelines for areas hit by natural calamity.
The NGO has alleged that parts of 12 states of 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.