New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to collate data on the various social security schemes being implemented in the 12 drought-affected states. The court asked states to assist the Centre in doing so.
This came during a hearing in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by non-profit Swaraj Abhiyan seeking the court’s intervention to ensure adequate relief for drought-affected regions.
A bench comprising justices Madan B. Lokur and R.K. Agarwal asked the government to reply indicating the steps taken in these regions by 22 January.
The court asked the Centre to collate data on deficit rainfall, implementation of National Food Security Act, midday meal scheme and the Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
The petition has sought timely disbursement of crop loans, drought compensation, help in procurement of subsidized cattle fodder and formulating an integrated water policy.
The 12 states, according to Swaraj Abhiyan, are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Odisha that are drought affected.
Between September and December, all these states (including Rajasthan) except Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana have declared a drought.
On 16 December, the court had issued notices to the central government and 11 drought-affected states seeking a reply indicating the steps taken in drought hit areas.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said on Monday that the responses filed by various states and centre demonstrate lack of seriousness on the part of state governments and the union government in responding to the crisis.
He also sought immediate orders that everyone living in drought-affected areas be given 5kg food grain per person per month, 2kg of pulses and a litre of edible oil per household per month under the National Food Security Act.
The food security law places an obligation on the state to provide 5kg of food grain to per person per month at a subsidized rate of Rs.2-3 per kg. The scheme is expected to cost the government Rs.1.2 trillion in 2015-16.
While 11 states and Union territories are yet to implement the law, 25 have done so. States that are yet to roll out the law include Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
According to an earlier survey by Swaraj Abhiyan, Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region is facing crop loss, disputes over water, starvation, and deaths due to hunger and malnutrition. The survey covered over 1,200 households in 108 villages spread across seven districts in Bundelkhand. Conducted between 27 October and 9 November, it was designed by Yogendra Yadav, founder of Swaraj Abhiyan, and economist Jean Dreze.
The 10 states that have declared a drought have asked for central assistance of Rs. 38,667 crore. So far, the centre has sanctioned a relief of 11,938 crore for eight states out of the National Disaster Response Fund.
Rural distress in the country has risen leading to fall in rural demand in the economy mainly due to repeated crop failures. Firstly, the 2014 Kharif crop suffered losses due to a drought as the June-September south-west monsoon recorded a country-wide deficit of 12% compared to the normal. This was followed by a spate of unseasonal rains and hailstorms across 15 states between February and April 2015 that damaged the winter harvest.
Further, a widespread drought in 2015 that saw a rainfall deficit of 14% dampened the prospects of the Kharif crop.
Repeated weather woes have also led to a spike in farmer suicides.
In Maharashtra alone, 2,234 farmers committed suicide between January and September (2015), revealed a Right to Information response from the state revenue department. According to Rythu Swarajya Vedika, an umbrella organization of non-governmental organisations in Telangana that collects data on farm suicides, 1,866 farmers killed themselves from June 2014 till date. Karnataka reported 516 farm suicides in 2015 (till mid-October), according to data provided by the Congress, the ruling party in the state.