The tussle between Telangana’s TRS party and the BJP over central assistance to the state for natural calamities has raised a host of questions.
While Telangana pointed out that the Centre has not provided the state any funds from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) since 2018, BJP leaders have highlighted the central share in the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to counter the TRS claims.
While the comparison is in itself problematic, a look at the allocation of NDRF funds to various states since 2018 does throw up questions of bias.
SDRF is a mandatory statutory fund — a right of every state. NDRF, however, is supplementary funding that the Union government is obliged to provide during natural calamities of a severe nature when SDRF funds alone do not suffice.
The SDRF corpus is funded in a 75:25 ratio by the Centre and state governments, as per the recommendations of the Finance Commission. The exceptions are the Northeastern and Himalayan states, where the funding is in a 90:10 ratio. SDRF is the primary source of funding for immediate relief measures.
Money from the NDRF, on the other hand, flows only after the approval of a high-level committee chaired by the Union Home Minister, after it reviews the need for additional assistance. The whole process of sanctioning funds from the NDRF — assessment, report submission, review, and, ultimately, clearance by the high-level committee — takes months.
Leading the TRS charge against the Centre for refusing NDRF assistance to Telangana, KT Rama Rao insisted the Union government was biased towards state governments ruled by the BJP or its allies in releasing funds.
Is KTR right? South First looked at all NDRF releases to states by the Union government since the fiscal year 2018-2019 for evidence of bias.
NDRF funds to states over the years
Cyclonic storms, flash floods, floods, landslides and cloudbursts are categorised as natural disasters by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
According to the MHA’s annual report, 27 states and Union territories (UTs) suffered disasters in 2018-19: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, and Puducherry.
Of these, only 14 States received NDRF funds. Of the 14, 10 had the BJP or its allies in power.
In 2019-20, there were again 27 states and UTs listed as having suffered natural calamities: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir (initially listed as a state, and then as a UT), the newly created UT of Ladakh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Puducherry were among the affected states.
Only 10 of these states received funds from NDRF. Of the 10, seven had governments led by BJP or its allies, or are ruled by parties that have often supported the BJP during Presidential elections and over crucial Bills such as reading down Article 370.
In 2020-21, the number of states and UTs that reported losses due to natural disasters was yet again 27. Only 17 of these received NDRF funds, of which 14 had governments led by the BJP or its allies, or are ruled by parties that have often supported the Centre.
While the MHA’s annual report for 2021-2022 isn't in the public domain yet, 11 states were given funds from NDRF during the year. The BJP and its allies, or parties that have often supported the Centre were in power in seven of them.
Bias in NDRF assistance?
KTR is not the first leader of a non-BJP ruled state to allege bias in the BJP-led central government's disbursal of funds under the NDRF.
In January 2020, the high-level committee headed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah sanctioned ₹5,908 crore from NDRF to seven flood-hit states: Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh — six of them NDA-ruled.
Kerala, which had witnessed two consecutive years of severe floods raised questions about not being extended assistance under the NDRF in 2020.
The state had witnessed its worst flood in a century in 2018 and had sought central assistance of ₹4,700 crore. In the 2018 floods, some 488 people had lost their lives in the 14 districts of Kerala and reports pegged losses at ₹31,000 crore.
In 2018-2019, the Union government had released ₹2,904 crore in relief to the state. That was the last time Kerala received any funds from NDRF. This, despite floods again ravaging the state in August 2019 and Kerala seeking assistance of ₹2,101.88 crore.
Karnataka, in November 2020, sought ₹2,100 crore from the NDRF after estimating losses of ₹9,833 crore due to floods swamped the state in October that year. NDRF relief sanctioned to Karnataka — a state governed by the BJP — was ₹689.27 crore in fiscal 2020-2021 and ₹1,623.30 crore in fiscal 2021-2022.
Gujarat government in 2020 had sought NDRF relief of ₹7,239.47 crores for damage caused during floods that year. For fiscal 2021-2022, the Union government released ₹1,000 crore from NDRF to the state.
In the case of Telangana, no money has been sanctioned under NDRF since 2018.
The Union government and BJP leaders cite various yardsticks — from review and expenditure of existing funds, to eligibility for relief under NDRF — to justify the sanction or the lack thereof to states affected by disasters. But the numbers tell their own story.