Rahul Gandhi's unfounded demand to declare Kerala floods as 'national disaster' is rhetoric with an eye on brownie points
How can the Narendra Modi government declare the Kerala floods as a 'national calamity' when there is no legal provision to do so?
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been demanding that the Kerala floods be declared as a “national disaster”. He posted two tweets seeking this action, both of which were directed at the prime minister
Increasing funds allocated for Kerala relief to Rs.500 Cr is a good step but nowhere near enough. It is critical you declare the floods as a National Disaster. Please do not vacillate as the people of Kerala are suffering. #KeralaFloodRelief https://t.co/AxabEOHftR
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 18, 2018
It would have been better if he had cared to read the Disaster Management Act, 2005 before making this demand. The law was enacted by the UPA government, which was led by the Congress. If Rahul had read the legislation, he would have realised that there is no provision which speaks of a 'national disaster.' The term also does not exist in books which are used as guides for disaster management — which includes rescue, relief and rehabilitation.
If there is no legal provision to declare a calamity — whether natural or man-made — as a 'national' one, how can the Narendra Modi government make a declaration to this effect? The government cannot issue an executive order which does not have any sanctity, whether by means of law or convention.
The Congress president’s tweets were posted after Modi landed in Kerala in the intervening night between Friday and Saturday. The prime minister, during his visit to the state, conducted an aerial survey and held meetings with concerned officials, including those from the National Disaster Management Authority. He also announced additional aid of Rs 500 crore to the state for rescue and relief work.
In the past four days, the National Crisis Management Committee headed by Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha worked to coordinate on rescue and relief operations with defence forces, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Coast Guard, home ministry, central paramilitary forces, other central government ministries and the Kerala government. There is a detailed list pertaining to deployment of workforce and material. As per a series of releases from the Press Information Bureau, a massive relief operation which involved all arms of the government was mounted on the instructions of the prime minister.
Thus, Rahul’s demand that the Kerala floods be declared as a 'national disaster' was political rhetoric aimed at scoring brownie points against Modi and the BJP — at a time when the state is facing an unprecedented natural calamity.
Consider the existing legal provision. The Disaster Management Act says that a "disaster" means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.
The Act outlines the role of the Centre, state and district administration in detail. It does not classify disasters as national or local ones. Responses of authorities may vary as per the severity of the calamity, but the norms according to which they are supposed to function are well laid out.
Further, there is a whole chapter on national disaster management in the 14th Finance Commission Report. Chapter 10 of the report outlines three kinds of funds – National Disaster Response Fund, State Disaster Response Fund and District Disaster Response Fund. The central government contributes 90 percent of the funds, while the state’s share is 10 percent.
Kerala’s State Disaster Response Fund for the period between 2015 to 2020 is Rs 1,021 crore. Out of this, the central government's share is Rs 919 crore and that of the state government is Rs 102 crore. The union government also provides money from the National Disaster Response Fund, keeping in mind the requirement of, and demands made, by a particular state. The Centre, in consultation with the state, also takes into account the damage assessment made by the authorities.
Rahul should realise that the 14th Finance Commission was constituted by the UPA government in January 2013.
It is also important to point out that natural calamities like the super cyclone in Odisha, the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, the Kosi floods in Bihar in 2008, the Kedarnath flash floods of 2013, and the floods in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014 were not declared national disasters. That is because there is no provision in the rule book through which the Centre can make any such declaration. The Gujarat earthquake and the Odisha cyclone were declared as calamities "of unprecedented severity".
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