The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up states for their “ostrich-like attitude” on drought, saying they ignored information provided by central agencies and failed to take any preparatory steps to tackle a possible disaster.
A bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and NV Ramana -- which asked the Centre to revise the manual on declaring drought – said states were not assessing the drought situation in time leading to serious consequences.
“The adverse or negative impact of a delayed declaration of drought affects the common person, particularly women and children, and postpones the assistance that is needed. It also puts an undue strain on the resources of the State Government and the Government of India. All in all, a delayed declaration is of no assistance to anybody…,” it said.
The top court was particularly harsh on Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana which, it said, were hesitant to even acknowledge, let alone address, a possible drought-like situation or a drought and did not disclose full facts about the prevailing conditions.
“A candid admission does not imply a loss of face or invite imputations of ineffective governance – it is an acknowledgement of reality. An ostrich-like attitude is a pity, particularly since the persons affected by a possible drought-like situation usually belong to the most vulnerable sections of society. The sound of silence coming from these States subjects the vulnerable to further distress,” it said.
“We are at a loss to understand the hesitation of these states. Ironically, towards the fag end of the hearing, Gujarat finally admitted the existence of a drought in five districts – a fact that could have been admitted much earlier. But at least, it is better late than never. However, Bihar and Haryana continue to be in denial mode,” the bench said attributing it to lack of their “lack of will”.
Commenting on the timing of declarations of drought by states, the SC said while 10 states declared drought and completed their assessment between August 2015 and December 2015, Gujarat “inexplicably” began its exercise only in March 2016.
“The (Drought Management) Manual mentions that the final figures of the Kharif crop are available in December. There is therefore no reason to delay the assessment exercise till March of the following year,” it said.
The court directed agriculture secretary to urgently hold a meeting within a week with chief secretaries of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana to review the apparent drought situation with all the available data and if so advised persuade the three states to declare a drought in whichever district, taluka, tehsil or block it was necessary.
The bench sought to emphasise 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.”