Water Crisis: Centre washes its hands of drought

New Delhi  : The Supreme Court on Tuesday castigated the government for delay in releasing funds for MGNREGA to drought-hit states, saying this was “totally unacceptable.” It also questioned the Centre’s role in declaring drought in states. “The money should be released in advance so that the (MGNREGA) work does not get hampered. Nobody is here to criticise the government. The only point being made is delay in payments, which is undeniable and totally unacceptable,” a bench headed by Justice M B Lokur said.

The apex court directed the Centre to submit a detailed chart of 10 drought-hit states and specify the number of people and districts, including villages affected by it. It also asked the Centre to provide details with regard to notification on declaration of drought and sought budgetary allocations of the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Fund.

Initiating arguments on behalf of the Centre, Additional Solicitor General P S Narsimha said the power to declare drought was completely vested with the states and the Centre has no role other than providing funds and putting a monitoring system in place. “Your lordship can very well pass an order if it feels a state should have declared drought,” Narsimha reasoned.

The bench then asked, “In case the drought situation in a state is very poor and the facts are stark, you are saying that the SC can pass an order. So what is the Centre supposed to do if there is a grave problem and the affected state is not declaring?” The ASG replied that in a federal structure, where there is a democratically-elected government in power, declaration of drought falls completely under states’ mantle. The Bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana, further said, “So it is between the state government and the courts. The Centre has nothing to do with it?”

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