The Supreme Court on Thursday severely pulled up the states of Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana for not declaring drought even though there was deficient rainfall and a fall in the production of foodgrains.
The Supreme Court on Thursday severely pulled up the states of Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana for not declaring drought even though there was deficient rainfall and a fall in the production of foodgrains. Voicing anguish over the apathy of the state governments in refusing to accept that there was a drought and that people were suffering, a bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and N.V. Ramana told the states’ counsel: “The case is about people’s lives.”
When Gujarat’s counsel submitted only 526 villages were affected, the bench asked why there was a delay in declaring a drought even in these villages. The counsel said the state couldn’t do so due to local body elections. Annoyed at this, the bench asked: “Will all work stop if there are elections Elections cannot bring everything to a standstill. People are dying, how can you be so careless When the situation was clear in September last that there could be a drought, why did you wait till April 1 this year to declare a drought ” The bench was referring to municipal polls in the state held in December-January. The bench directed the Gujarat government to release the special packages for farmers in drought-hit districts immediately.
On Haryana, which hadn’t filed an affidavit in the writ petition by Swaraj Abhyan, the bench told its counsel: “Is this the seriousness that you show on this (drought) issue We are talking about people who are dying, not tourists. Please do something. This is not a picnic,” it added. At this, the state’s counsel handed some documents to the bench, which mostly turned out to be outdated statistics with no relevance to the PIL on scanty rainfall in 12 states in the past two years. Haryana, however, said it was not declaring a drought as there was no fall in its foodgrain production. Farmers mainly depended on river waters supplied through canals, besides tubewells, it claimed.
Bihar also claimed there was no drought in the state. This prompted the bench to wonder why the Centre had come out with the drought manual if states would not follow it. At this, additional solicitor-general Pinky Anand said the manual was recommendatory, and not binding on states.
The bench said the government couldn’t deny poor people the benefits due to them in case of drought. In drought-hit areas, people are entitled to 150 days of work, against 100 days in other places, under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).
There are also entitled to the supply of essential commodities like lentils, egg, oil and milk at subsidised rates.
The petitioner, NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, said the other nine states facing drought are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.