Around ₹3,400 crore released to Karnataka for drought management: Union government tells SC

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said ₹3,450 crore has been released but the state's request was for assistance of ₹18,000 crore.

BySouth First Desk

Published Apr 29, 2024 | 6:01 PM Updated Apr 29, 2024 | 6:01 PM

Karnataka's fight for drought relief Union government tells Supreme Court it will decide in a week

The Union government on Monday, 29 April, told the Supreme Court that around ₹3,400 crore has been released to the Karnataka government for drought management in the state.

A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta was hearing a plea filed by the Karnataka government seeking a direction to the Centre to release financial assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to the state for drought management.

“Some amount has already been released,” the bench asked Attorney General R Venkataramani, who was appearing for the Union government.

The top law officer said around ₹3,400 crore has been released.

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‘Sought more’

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Karnataka, said ₹3,450 crore has been released but the state’s request was for assistance of ₹18,000 crore.

He said an inspection was done by an inter-ministerial team which sent a report to a sub-committee.

Referring to a chart annexed in the state’s petition, he said it relates to the claims made in accordance with the policy of the Union government.

Sibal said the amount sought for gratuitous relief to families whose livelihood is seriously affected due to drought was ₹12,577 crore.

“The problem is, according to us, this particular claim has not even been addressed and this is part of the policy of the Government of India under the National Disaster Management Act,” Sibal said.

“We are grateful for the amount which has been given. There is no issue on that,” he said.

Sibal said there was an inter-ministerial team which went to the state and looked at all these factors and gave a report to the sub-committee, which in turn then sent it to the appropriate authority to take a decision.

“That inter-ministerial report is not with us,” he said, adding, “So my request to your lordships is that ask them to place that report before your lordships and in accordance with that, whatever is decided, we have no problem”.

Venkataramani said whatever the inter-ministerial team recommended, the sub-committee took that into account.

When the bench asked about the recommendations, the top law officer said, “I wish to say the recommendations have been acted upon”.

The bench asked him to place the recommendation of the inter-ministerial team.

“I will place a note,” he said. The bench posted the matter for hearing on 6 April.

Earlier hearing

On 22 April, the Union government told the top court that the Election Commission had given clearance to it to deal with the issue raised by Karnataka regarding financial assistance for drought management.

“This should all be done amicably…we are having a federal structure,” the bench had observed.

The petition has sought to declare that the Centre’s action in not releasing the financial assistance for drought arrangement as per the NDRF is “ex-facie violative” of the fundamental rights of the people of the state guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

It said the state is reeling under “severe drought”, affecting the lives of its people and for the Kharif 2023 season, which starts in June and ends in September, a total of 223 out of 236 taluks are declared as drought-affected.

The plea said 196 taluks are categorised as severely affected and the remaining 27 as moderately affected.

“Cumulatively for kharif 2023 season, the agriculture and horticulture crop loss have been reported in more than 48 lakh hectares with the estimated loss (cost of cultivation) of Rs 35,162 crore,” the plea, filed through advocate D L Chidananda, said.

It said the assistance sought from the Centre under the NDRF is ₹18,171.44 crore.

‘Arbitrary actions’

It said the state is constrained to move the apex court against the “arbitrary actions” of the Centre in denying the financial assistance for drought management to Karnataka under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the manual for drought management updated in 2020.

“Further, the impugned action of the Central Government is violative of statutory scheme of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the manual for drought management and the guidelines on constitution and administration of the State Disaster Response Fund and National Disaster Response Fund,” the plea said.

It said under the manual for drought management, the Centre is required to take a final decision on the assistance to the state from the NDRF within a month of the receipt of the inter-ministerial central team (IMCT).

“Despite the IMCT report, which visited various drought affected districts from 4 to 9 October, 2023 and made a comprehensive assessment of drought situation in the state and consideration of the said report by the sub-committee of the National Executive Committee constituted under section 9 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Centre has not taken a final decision on the assistance to the state from the NDRF even after a lapse of almost six months from the date of the said report,” the plea said.

Also Read: Karnataka’s fight for funds: Centre releases disaster relief after plea in SC

‘Amount not even a quarter of state’s demand’

On Sunday, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, his deputy DK Shivakumar along with several ministers and legislators staged a dharna in Bengaluru, alleging injustice done to the state by the union government while releasing the drought relief funds.

Holding ‘Chombu’, a water pot symbolising emptiness and deception, the leaders charged the Centre with “cheating” Karnataka by not releasing adequate relief to face acute drought, the kind of which was not witnessed in the past several decades.

They held the symbolic dharna in front of the Mahatma Gandhi statue on the premises of “Vidhana Soudha”, which houses the Legislature and Secretariat.

The state government has declared 226 out of the total 236 Taluks in Karnataka as drought-hit and said there was a crop loss in 48 lakh hectares of land.

According to Siddaramaiah, against the demand for ₹18,171 crore for drought relief, the union government ordered release of only ₹3,454 crore, that too after the state approached the Supreme Court.

The amount was not even a quarter of the state’s demand, he noted.

“After persistent efforts and an appeal to the Supreme Court, we’ve secured ₹3,498.82 crore in drought relief from the Union Government,” the chief minister wrote on Facebook.

“This is perhaps the first time in the history of India that a state was driven to the Supreme Court to get its rights enforced. It’s regrettable that we had to wait since September 2023 for a response. Ministry of Home Affairs finally woke up after the Hon. Supreme Court rang the bell,” he wrote.

(With PTI inputs)