Swaraj Abhiyan vs. Union of India & Ors.

FACTS

The matter was brought forward by the Petitioner in front of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India by virtue of a writ petition of “Mandamus”, which is Latin for “We Command”, under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The issue in question was regarding the rampant drought or “semi-scarcity” situations in the States of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana. The petitioner mentioned that it is not a political party or an unregistered non-government organization.

The backdrop of this writ petition was the pronouncement of drought in parts of nine states of India, namely – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. All these States along with the Union of India are the Respondents in this writ petition.

Following was prayed by the Petitioner in this writ petition –

  • Direction by the Supreme Court to the States of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana to declare a drought and provide the people affected by the drought with essential relief and compensation so as to secure their rights.
  • All the Respondents of this case, including the Union of India, be directed to provide the farmers with requisite and punctual indemnity for crop loss and also the input subsidy for the next crop.
  • Direction to the Respondents to secure the employment of the drought affected people under NREGA Act, 2005.
  • Food grains be made available by the Respondents under the National Food Security Act, 2013 to the rural inhabitants in the drought affected areas. This being done with no discrimination of the inhabitants being above or below the poverty line.
  • Milk and eggs be made available to children covered by the Integrated Child Development Scheme or the Mid Day Meal Scheme in the drought affected areas.
  • An equitable, just and unambiguous package for crop loss compensation be fixed.

ISSUES

  1. Whether the Respondent States of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana need to declare an official drought in their respective territories?
  2. Whether the Respondents are liable for securing the basic human rights of the people affected by the drought and providing them with essential relief and compensation?
  3. What are the ad hoc measures that need to be undertaken so as to ensure the protection of people from the most vulnerable section of the society
  4. What are the duties and liabilities of the States in such situations of disaster management?

JUDGEMENT

The ratio of the judgement was 2:0in favour of the Petitioner.

  • As mandated by Section 44 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 a National Disaster Response Force is required to be constituted with appropriate strength within the period of 6 months from the order of judgement.
  • As mandated by Section 47 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 a National Disaster Mitigation Fund is required to be constituted within the period of 3 months from the order of judgement.
  • As required by Section 11of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 formulation of a National Plan relating to risk and crisis management in the event of a disaster.
  • Ordering to revise the contents of the Drought Management Manual since several new developments have taken place since the publication of the Manual in 2009.

Following factors need to be kept in mind while the revision of the Manual :

  • Necessary weightage is required to be given to each of the four key indicators.
  • The revised Manual should substantially outline the possible factors which need to be taken into consideration for declaration of a drought.
  • Since the impact and effect of a late declaration of droughtis catastrophic, there is a necessity of a timely declaration. Thus, the time limit for declaring a drought should be warranted in the Manual.
  • The classification should be standardized and so should be the methodology to be taken into consideration for declaring a drought.
  • The Union of India must provide for the future in terms of preparation, deterrence and diminution in the revised and amended Manual as well as in the National Plan. Innovative methods of conservation and utilization of water should be seriously encouraged and supervised by the experts in the field.
  • For an early ascertainment of a drought or drought-like situation, the Government of India must be resolute on the use of modern technology.

REASONING OF THE JUDGEMENT

  • The Court found out that under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 no National Plan has yet been drawn up for disaster management.
  • This goes on to establish that anticipation of a disaster, for example a drought, is not considered worth investing time into by the Union of India.
  • Thus, provisions of the Disaster Management Act should be strictly implemented so as to discontinue such happenings in the future.
  • It was also found that even after 10 years of the enforcement of the Disaster Management Act, the National Disaster Mitigation Fund has not yet been set up.
  • The Union of India along with the State Governments have also behaved negligently in determining the priority of risk assessment and risk management.
  • Rainfall is considered to be the most important indicator of drought in India according to the Manual for drought management. Thus, a departure in rainfall from its average term should be taken as an important factor for drought declaration..
  • It can be clearly inferred from the reading of the Manual that the factors affecting drought declaration need to be advanced too with respect to the past practices. The attention should be on these 4 factors :
  • Rainfall Deficiency
  • Extent of area sown
  • Normalization Difference Vegetation Index
  • Moisture Adequacy Index

Authored by Chahat Mangtani | Edited by Shreya Mishra.

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