Extensive directions issued on Disaster Management, Food Safety, NREGA, to tackle the drought-like conditions prevalent in different parts of the Country

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Supreme Court: Giving out detailed directions in order to tackle the drought-like conditions prevalent in the various parts of the Country, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and N.V. Ramana, said that dealing with such situation will require establishing and constituting bodies and authorities provided for by law and making available the necessary finances for implementing and abiding by the law. Stating that the rule of law binds everyone, including the State, the Court said that the State cannot say that it is not bound to follow the law and cannot adhere to statutory provisions enacted by Parliament and create a smokescreen of a lack of finances or some other cover-up. The directions issued by the Court on various issues raised by the petitioner are as follows:

DISASTER MANAGEMENT

The Court came down heavily upon the States of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana for showing an ostrich-like attitude when these States are facing drought-like situations or drought and the persons belonging to most vulnerable section of the society are the most affected ones.

Considering the sorry state of affairs, the Court gave the following directions:

  • Union of India directed to constitute a National Disaster Response Force within a period of six months with an appropriate and regular cadre strength and also to establish a National Disaster Mitigation Fund within a period of three months from the date of the order.
  • Union of India directed to formulate a National Plan for risk assessment, risk management and crisis management in respect of a disaster in terms of Section 11 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 at the very earliest and with immediate concern.
  • The Drought Management Manual published in 2009 to be revised on or before 31.12.2016.
  • Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture in the Government of India is directed to urgently hold a meeting within a week with the Chief Secretary of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana to review the apparent drought situation with all the available data and if so advised persuade the State Government to declare a drought in whichever district, taluka, tehsil or block is necessary.

The Court held that in the proposed revised and updated Manual as well as in the National Plan, the Union of India must provide for the future in terms of prevention, preparedness and mitigation. Innovative methods of water conservation, saving and utilization (including ground water) should be seriously considered and the experts in the field should be associated in the exercise. Also, The Government of India must insist on the use of modern technology to make an early determination of a drought or a drought-like situation.

The Court, stating that Availability of adequate food grains and water is certainly of utmost importance but they are not the only factors required to be taken note of, said that humanitarian factors such as migrations from affected areas, suicides, extreme distress, the plight of women and children are some of the factors that ought to be kept in mind by State Governments in matters pertaining to drought and the Government of India in updating and revising the Manual. [Swaraj Abhiyan -(I) v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 485 decided on 11.06.2015]

FOOD SAFETY

After dwelling upon risk management in drought hit areas, the Court gave the below mentioned directions for the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFS Act).

  • States should establish an internal grievance mechanism and appoint or designate for each district a District Grievance Redressal Officer within one month of this Order.
  • A State Food Commission for the purpose of monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the NFS Act to be constituted within two months.
  • In the States in which drought has been declared or might be declared in the future, all households should be provided with their monthly entitlement of food grains in terms of the NFS Act regardless of whether they fall in the category of priority household or not or whether they have a ration card or not.
  • States of Bihar, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh must within a month make adequate provision for the supply of eggs or milk or any other nutritional substitute for children under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme is to be extended into the vacation period of the schools in the drought affected area.

The Court said that the Union of India usually brings into force a statute without putting in place the implementation machinery which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the mechanism for enforcing several provisions of the NFS Act has not been established or constituted. The Court said that this tardiness in execution that enables some State Governments to take it easy and implement the law whenever it is convenient to do so. [Swaraj Abhiyan – (II) v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 551, decided on 13.05.2016]

NATIONAL RURAL EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE SCHEME

Dealing with the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme framed under the provisions of Section 4 of the said Act, the Court gave the following directions:

  • State Governments to present a realistic budget which should then be pragmatically considered by the Empowered Committee in order to avoid any controversy between the State Governments and the Government of India about the release of funds under the Scheme.
  • Government of India is directed to release to the State Governments adequate funds under the Scheme in a timely manner so that the ‘workforce’ is paid its wages well in time.
  • Government of India is directed to ensure that compensation for delayed payment is made over to the workers whose wages have been delayed beyond 15 days.
  • Both the State Governments and the Government of India are directed to make all efforts to encourage needy persons to come forward and take advantage of the Scheme.
  • Central Employment Guarantee Council to be immediately constituted under Section 10 of the NREG Act within 60 days from the date of the order.
  • State Employment Guarantee Council under Section 12 of the Act within a period of 45 days from the date of the order.

Before departing with the judgment, the Court said that Since the NREG Act is a social welfare and social justice legislation the Government of India must ensure that its provisions are faithfully implemented by all concerned. [Swaraj Abhiyan -(III) v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 549, decided on 13.05.2016]

CROP LOSS, LOAN AND RELIEF

For the remaining issues raised by the petitioner like relief for Crop Loss, Fodder Banks and Crop Loan Re-structuring and Relief, the Court said that the concerns raised pertain to policy, whether economic and fiscal policy or policy impacting on drought effected persons and it is for experts in the field to take a call. The Court said that the said issues should actually be looked at from the point of view of implementation of a policy and monitoring its implementation and for that what is important is for the Union of India and the State Governments to set up watch-dog committees or ombudsmen to see that the polices framed are faithfully implemented.

Applying the principle of Continuing Mandamus, the Court said that this petition ought not be disposed of but should be kept pending and the possibility of a continuing mandamus being issued ought to be kept open to ensure that the directions that have been given are complied with by the Government of India as well as the State Governments.

The Court directed the Union of India to file a status report on or before 25th July, 2016 stating the action taken by the Government of India on the various directions issued in this case on different dates. [Swaraj Abhiyan – (IV) v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 529, decided on 13.05.2016]

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