The central government has told the Supreme Court that more than one-third of India’s districts are affected by severe drought and at least 33 crore people in these 256 districts are affected by drought. Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha informed a bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur on Tuesday that 256 of 675 districts in the country have been declared drought-hit.

 

 “Is that not more than 25 per cent of the total population of our country?” said the bench. The ASG said the total population affected by drought has been arrived at by taking into account the individual population of each district. Narasimha also said more than 130 talukas in the country have been declared drought-hit.

 

The government said it was releasing money to the affected states from its disaster fund to tackle the crisis. Additional solicitor general PS Narasimha, who submitted the data before the court on the basis of figures furnished by 10 states, said Rs 7,321 crore was released on Monday under MGNREGS in addition to Rs 12,230 crore disbursed earlier this month. He also said more than 21 lakh households were granted more than 100 days of employment under the rural job scheme in these states.
 

   The government said it was releasing money to the affected states from its disaster fund to tackle the crisis. PS Narasimha also said Rs 7,321 crore was released on Monday under MGNREGS in addition to Rs 12,230 crore disbursed earlier this month. He said more than 21 lakh households were granted more than 100 days of employment under the rural job scheme in these states.

 

   The government’s submission prompted the bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana, to take stock of the relief measures as it questioned the ASG over the Centre’s preparedness to handle the situation. It also underlined that three central statutes — MNREGA, Food Security and Disaster Management — must be implemented properly to ensure people are able to survive the situation.

 

    The court expressed displeasure over the method of “eye estimation” at local levels to submit reports on whether a region is badly affected by drought due to lack of rainfall. “What is this eye estimation business? You have to take help of technology now. You cannot leave it to the eyes,” said the bench when it was apprised of the usual method of conducting survey on crop loss.

 

    Narasimha said there has been no backlog of funds by the central government to states in assuring relief for drought, and that the court must acknowledge the “limited role” of the Centre in such matters. He added that more than Rs 19,500 crore has been released for wages under MNREGA and a new scheme, National Electronic Fund Management, has been put in place in at least 10 states to ensure wages can be directly deposited in the accounts of beneficiaries.

 

    The ASG pointed out that in a federal structure, whether or not to declare drought is within the domain of a state government and that the Centre has to act accordingly. “If this court feels that the three statutes are not being followed and that a drought should be declared, it may issue a mandamus and it would be for the state concerned to decide whether or not it wants to contest such an order. We, as the Centre, have a very limited role,” Narasimha said.