New Delhi: Supreme Court on Thursday came down heavily on Gujarat and Haryana governments for their non-seriousness in dealing with the issue of drought.
A bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and N V Ramana took both the state governments to task for filing shoddy statistics on the drought hit areas in both the states, asking them whether all work would stop in case there are elections.
"Why have you filed all this? You found these papers in your office and filed them here? Is this seriousness that you show on this issue? People are dying. This is not some picnic ou are having in Haryana," the bench observed.
At the outset, the Centre sought adjournment in the case as no law officer was available to argue the matter. The bench expressed its anguish at this and said the Centre was not serious about the issue.
The apex court expressed displeasure over the absence of Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand during the hearing.
When the bench enquired about her presence, a junior lawyer told the court that ASG was busy with a prior engagement.
"Two Supreme Court judges have no other job but to come, sit here and look at the clock," the bench shot back.
When the message was passed, ASG Anand rushed to the court for the hearing.
During the hearing, the Gujarat government told the bench that a total of 526 villages in three districts were declared is drought affected. It also said that National Food Security Act has been implemented and a notification was issued in this regard from 1 April.
The court then asked Gujarat why it waited till 1 April to declare drought, when situation was clear in September last year itself.
Gujarat government replied that local polls had delayed declaration of drought in the state.
To this, the bench asked "will all work stop if there are elections?"
Bihar government told the court that there was no drought like situation in the state and all kinds of help was being given in areas where deficient rainfall has been experienced.
The apex court had earlier pulled up the Centre for not releasing adequate funds to states for MGNREGA and asked it to give details of expenditure on the scheme in drought-hit states, saying relief has to be provided now and not after one year.
On 31 March, the apex court had asked Centre to say how many states had drought management cells and why no district- level disaster management authorities have been set up.
It had suggested that the Centre, with the help of satellite data, should analyse the expected rainfall in the monsoon season and take effective steps to tackle drought-like situations on time.
The bench is examining various aspects of relief given to drought-hit farmers during the hearing of a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking urgent implementation of guidelines for areas hit by natural calamity.
Earlier, the court had expressed its concern over low compensation paid to calamity-hit farmers and observed that it was leading some of them to commit suicide.
The NGO, in its revised prayer, has sought a direction to Centre to abide by the provisions of MNREGA Act and use it for employment generation in drought-affected areas.
The PIL filed by the NGO has alleged that parts of 12 states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chattisgarh were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief.