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Apex court raps Gujarat for declaring drought "far too late", says govt hesitant in calling it drought even now

By Our Representative
A two judge bench of the Supreme Court of India has sharply criticized the Gujarat government for declaring drought-like situation “far too late” – in April. It said this while  telling Government of India not to tolerate "ostrich-like attitude" of Gujarat, Haryana and Bihar on drought, while giving directions on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Aam Aadmi Party's breakaway group Swaraj Abhiyan.
The Gujarat government declared drought or “semi-scarcity” this month in 526 villages, followed by another 468 villages.
Taking strong exception to the Gujarat Relief Manual referring to confusing terms like “scarcity” and “semi-scarcity”, Justices Madan B Lokur and NV Ramana said, “The state government appears to be hesitant to use the word 'drought' even though a drought or a drought-like situation exists.”
Blaming it on “a lack of standardization in the annawari system of crop assessment”, the apex court said, “Gujarat takes 4 annas out of 12 annas as a base for determining if there is a drought-like situation. In areas where the crop cutting is between 4 annas and 6 annas, there is discretion in the state Government to declare or not to declare a drought.”
Asking the Union agriculture secretary “to urgently hold a meeting within a week with the chief secretary of Gujarat, along with those of Bihar and Haryana, to “review the apparent drought situation with all the available data”, the apex court insisted, they should be persuaded “to declare a drought in whichever district, taluka, tehsil or block is necessary.”
The apex court said, “It should be emphasized that there is no loss of face or prestige or dignity in the State Government declaring a drought if it is warranted, although succour to the distressed might be too late in the day.”
The agriculture secretary, the apex court said, might also “consider” convening meetings with the respective authorities which are supposed to deal with drought situations in Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana in order to identify “any threatening disaster situation or disaster.”
The writ petition was filed by the Swaraj Abhiyan in the backdrop of a declaration of drought in some districts or parts thereof in nine states that is Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The Swaraj Abhiyan said, drought ought to be declared in most parts of Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana, even as seeking a direction from the apex court to declare a drought and provide essential relief and compensation to people affected by the drought.
The PIL said, the prayer for a declaration of drought in Gujarat has “seemingly become infructuous”, and there is a lot to say “about the response (or lack of it) by the state government in Gujarat.”
It said, all state governments should make available “timely payment” for employment (more particularly to the drought affected people) under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme framed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005.
Further, it insisted, food grains should be made available as specified under the National Food Security Act, 2013 to the rural populace in the drought affected areas irrespective of their classification of being above the poverty line or below the poverty line.
It added, milk or eggs should be made available to all children who are covered by the Mid Day Meal Scheme or the Integrated Child Development Scheme in the drought affected areas, adding, crop loans for damaged crops and other debts of farmers in the drought affected areas should be restructured and a fair, objective and transparent package for crop loss compensation be fixed.

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