‘Union govt violating state’s fundamental rights’: Karnataka in SC over drought relief

The Congress government in Karnataka said that the ruling BJP government has not released drought relief funds despite apprising it of the dire situation multiple times.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah
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After weeks of verbal duels with both state BJP leaders and the Union government over drought relief funds, the Congress government in Karnataka initiated a legal fight in the Supreme Court on Saturday, March 23. They have urged the court to direct the Union government to provide financial assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) towards drought in 223 of 236 taluks of the state. 

The Karnataka government has requested for Rs 18,171.44 crore from the Union government through three Drought Relief Memorandum submitted in September-November 2023. The plea said that the allocation for Karnataka under SDRF for the fiscal year 2023- 24 is Rs 929.50 crore. The entire SDRF allocation has been utilised and the state government also had to draw funds from its exchequer due to delays in receiving funds from the NDRF. 

Speaking to the media, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said, “We cannot be mute spectators when the farmers are in distress. The Union government’s hostility towards the state’s people and farmers is deliberate. Therefore, we approached the apex court seeking justice.”

Under the Manual for Drought Management, the Union government 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). But even six months after the IMCT submitted its report, the Union government has not taken any decision. 

“The IMCT conducted an extensive evaluation of the drought situation in Karnataka by visiting the affected districts from October 4 to 9, 2023. Following this assessment, it submitted its findings to the sub-committee of the National Executive Committee, as mandated by the Disaster Management Act. However, the Union government has not yet reached a conclusive decision regarding the provision of assistance to the state from the NDRF,” the plea said. 

The State has invoked Article 32 of the Constitution to submit the petition at the Supreme Court for the enforcement of fundamental rights. “It is respectfully submitted that the present Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, the petitioner State of Karnataka, in fulfilment of its parens patriae obligation to its  people, is approaching this Hon’ble Court against the inaction on the part of the Union of India in rendering financial  assistance for drought management under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Manual for Drought Management  and the Guidelines on Constitution and Administration of the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and NDRF,” read the petition. 

Explaining the extent of the situation, it said, "223 out of 236 taluks are declared as drought-affected, with 196 taluks categorised as severely affected and the remaining 27 categorised as moderately affected. During the South West Monsoon in 2023, the state recorded only 33 rainy days out of 122 days (rainy day is defined as ≥ 2.5 mm rainfall/day), which is the 2nd lowest in the last 33 years.”

“The present drought situation has damaged crops, affected livestock, leading to lower yields, reduced income for farmers, increased food prices and increased shortage of water in urban and rural areas as well due to reduced ground water level and shortage or no water storage in lakes as well as reservoirs. The overall socio-economic scenario is in distress and is evident from the relief measures being undertaken to mitigate fodder shortage and drinking water scarcities,” the plea said.

The government had already written to the Prime Minister in this regard in January and its Cabinet Ministers multiple times about the situation, it was pointed out. 

Read: Karnataka CM meets PM Modi, seeks release of Rs 18,177 cr drought package 

The state government said that the agriculture and horticulture crop loss for the Kharif 2023 season has been reported in more than 48 lakh hectares with the estimated loss (cost of cultivation) of Rs 35,162 crore. 

“The state government has sought Rs 18,171.44 crore under NDRF, through three Drought Relief Memorandum submitted in September-November 2023 ie, Rs 4663.12 crore towards crop loss input subsidy, Rs 12577.9 crore towards gratuitous relief to families whose livelihood has been seriously affected due to  drought, Rs 566.78 crore for addressing shortage of drinking water relief then and Rs 363.68 crore towards cattle care,” read the petition. 

The Supreme Court is currently closed for Holi and will reopen only on April 1. According to Bar and Bench, the petition will be pressed for hearing before a vacation bench given the urgency.

The Congress government has been taking on the Union government and the state BJP Members of Parliament over their lack of concern towards the drought situation in the state. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had questioned the silence of 25 BJP MPs from the state on the issue. He had said, “There are 25 MPs (of BJP from the state), let them sit there (in Delhi) and get it done. What concern do they (BJP) have for Karnataka?” 

Pointing out that despite having 27 MPs (including one independent and one from Janata Dal (Secular)) of the total of 28 from Karnataka, the Deputy CM had said that the BJP could not get drought relief released to the state by holding a meeting with the BJP-led Union government.

Congress General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala on January 3 said, “We are unable to understand what the 26 BJP MPs and one BJP-supported member of the Parliament are doing? Instead of politicising issues, they should work for the welfare of the people. They should meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and put pressure on him to release the money, which is due to the state.”

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