Supreme Court Guidelines



Swaraj Abhiyan (I) v. Union of India and Others

AIR 2016 SC 2929: 2016 (5) SCALE 85: 2016 (7) sec 498: 2016 AIR (SCW) 2929

Writ Petition (Civil)  No. 857 of 2015

Dated: May 11, 2016

BENCH: Justices Madan B. Lokur and N.V Ramana.

Directions in a public interest litigation filed by Swaraj Abhiyan.


1. As mandated by Section 44 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 a National Disaster Response Force with its own regular specialist cadre is required to be constituted. Unfortunately, no such force  has  been  constituted  till  date. Accordingly,  we  direct the Union  of India to  constitute  a National  Disaster  Response  Force within  a period of six months from today with an appropriate and regular cadre strength.

2. As mandated by Section 47 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 a National Disaster Mitigation Fund is required to be established. Unfortunately, no such Fund has been constituted till date. Accordingly, we direct the Union of India to establish a National Disaster Mitigation Fund within a period of three months from today.

3. Section 11 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 requires the  formulation  of  a National Plan  relating  to  risk assessment,  risk  management  and  crisis  management in respect of a disaster. Such a National Plan has not been formulated over the last ten years, although a policy document has been prepared. We can appreciate that the formulation of a National  Plan  will  take some  time but surely  ten  years  is far  too long for such an exercise. Accordingly we direct the Union of India to formulate a National Plan in terms of Section  11  of the  Disaster  Management  Act, 2005 at the very earliest and with immediate concern.

4. The Drought Management Manual is undoubtedly a meaningful and well-researched document. However, in view of the submissions made before us by learned counsel for the parties, we are of the opinion that since the Manual was published in 2009 several new developments have taken place and there is a need to revise the contents of the Manual. We direct that the Manual be revised and updated on or before 31st December, 2016. While revising and updating the Manual, the  Ministry of Agriculture  in  the Union of India should take into consideration the following factors apart from others:

(i) Weightage  to  be given  to  each of the four  key indicators  should  be determined to the extent possible. Although the Manual states that rainfall deficit is the most important indicator,  State Governments  seem to  be giving greater weightage  to the  area of crop sown out  of the  cultivable area and  not  to  rainfall deficit. For this reason, necessary weightage is required to be given to each key indicator.

(ii) The time limit for declaring a drought should be mandated  in  the  Manual. Although it  is stated  in  the  Manual  that  the  best  time  to  declare  a drought, if necessary, is October, we find that some States have declared a drought in November and December  and  in  the case of Gujarat  in April  of the following year.  Obviously  this  is far  too  late. The  impact  and  effect  of a late declaration of drought has  already  been  mentioned  in  the  Manual  and  it  is  not  necessary to repeat it. Hence the necessity of a timely declaration.

(iii) The  revised and updated Manual should liberally delineate the possible factors to   be taken into consideration  for declaration of a drought and their respectiveweightage. Haryana has added several factors as has been mentioned above. Similarly, Bihar has added some other factors such as perennial rivers while Gujarat has added factors such as  the  nature of the soil etc. While we appreciate  that  it may be difficult to lay down specific parameters and mathematical formulae, the elbow room available to each State enabling it to decline declaring a drought (even though it exists) should  be minimized. This would  certainly  be in the interest  of the people who face distress because of a drought or a drought-like situation.

(iv) The nomenclature should  be standardized  as also the  methodology  to  be taken into consideration for declaring a drought or not declaring a drought. The Gujarat Relief Manual, for example,  apparently refers to  “scarcity”  and “semi-scarcity”. The State Government appears to be hesitant to  use the word “drought”  even though a drought or a drought-like situation exists. Similarly, due to a lack of standardization in the annewari system of crop assessment,  Gujarat takes 4 annas out  of 12 annas as a base for determining if there  is a drought-like situation. In areas where  the crop cutting is between  4  annas  and  6 annas,  there is discretion in the State Government to  declare  or not  to declare  a drought.  On  the other hand, Maharashtra uses 50 paise as the  standard  the annewari system for declaring a drought. There ought  to  be some standardization so  that each State does follow its own methodology in declaring or not declaring a drought.

5. In the proposed revised and updated Manual  as well  as in  the  National  Plan,  the Union of  India  must  provide  for  the  future  in  terms  of  prevention,  preparedness and mitigation. Innovative methods of water conservation, saving and utilization (including ground water) should be seriously considered and the experts in the field should be associated in the exercise. Illustratively, dry land farming, water harvesting, drip irrigation etc. could be considered  amongst other techniques.

6. The  Government  of  India  must  insist  on  the  use  of  modern  technology  to  make an  early  determination  of  a  drought  or  a  drought-like  situation.  There  is  no  need to continue with colonial  methods  and  manuals  that follow a colonial  legacy. It  is high time that State Governments realize the vast potential of technology and the Government of India should insist on the use of such technology in preparing uniform State Management  Plans for a disaster.

7. The Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture in the Government of India is directed to  urgently hold  a meeting within a week with the Chief Secretary of Bihar,  Gujarat and  Haryana  to review the apparent drought situation with all the available data and if so advised persuade the State Government to declare  a drought  in  whichever  district,  taluka, tehsil or block is necessary. It should be emphasized that there is no loss of face or prestige or dignity in the State Government declaring a drought if it is warranted, although succour to the distressed might be too late in the day. The Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare in the Union of India might also consider convening a meeting of the  National Executive Committee  and issue directions, if necessary, to the States of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana and their Authorities in response to any threatening disaster situation or disaster.

8. Humanitarian factors such as migrations from affected areas, suicides, extreme distress, the plight of women and children are some of the factors that ought to be kept in mind by State Governments in matters pertaining to drought and the Government oflndia in updating and revising  the Manual. Availability  of adequate  food  grains and  water  is certainly of utmost importance but they are not the only factors required to be taken note of.

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