New Delhi, Aug 21: The Central government has informed Kerala High Court that there is no legal provision available with it to declare disaster as a national calamity. There has been a demand from the state government and several political parties to declare Kerala floods a national disaster.
The affidavit submitted by the Centre to the high court says, "It has treated the flood situation in Kerala as a "Disaster of Serious Nature" and has categorized the same as 'L3 Level of Disaster' under the National Disaster Management Guidelines.
The initial government measures:
The Home Ministry had earlier already issued similar official order, "Keeping in view of the intensity and magnitude of the floods/landslides of 2018 in Kerala, this is a calamity of a severe nature for all practical purposes." The order was in response to opposition parties demanding that the Centre should declare the flood situation in Kerala as a 'national disaster.'
Sources say, "There is no provision in statutes or manuals to declare the disaster as a 'national calamity', howsoever big it may be. It is only an expression used in general parlance." There are three levels of natural calamity. Level one when the state government is able to manage its own; Level two when state does not take much responsibility and level three when Centre takes over all the responsibility with armed forces are deployed for rescue and rehabilitation. However, the government does not have any provision of declaring any calamity as National Disaster.
What the statute says:
As per the Disaster Management Act, "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.''
A Supreme Court lawyer Uday Kumar says, demanding natural calamity a status of national disaster is more of a political demand as statute does not have any such provisions. However, the government sources said that any move by a government to call a disaster as a 'national disaster' earlier was an indication that the State Disaster Response Funds have proved inadequate to meet the requirements and the onus goes on the Centre to provide 100 per cent financial assistance.
Kumar said, "The purpose is to get distressed people all possible assistance but demand to declare a calamity as a national disaster is more of a political nature than anything else. Moreover, this cannot be criterion or a priority on which the central government provides relief to the state that needs help. In the case of Kerala, Central resources have already been given to the state government." The Prime Minister and Union home minister together provided Rs 600 crore to Kerala and ordered immediate release of funds under the NDRF. Central assistance by multiple agencies is already being pouring in to the state,'' said sources.
What has been done in the past:
Kerala is not the first case and also not the worst case. There was a super cyclone in the year 1999 and that was not declared a 'national calamity' or a 'national disaster'. But all assistance was provided by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with initially sanctioning Rs 250 crore. Uttarakhand witnessed flash flood in 2013 in Kedarnath which too was not declared National disaster similarly floods in Jammu and Kashmir were also not declared a national disaster and not even Tsunami.
No guideline in the law for national disaster:
Sources said that there was a simple reason behind this that there was neither guideline nor provision for national disaster under the Disaster Management Act 2005 to declare any calamity as a 'national disaster'. Sources on condition of anonymity informed that when the government of India decides to declare any calamity a 'national disaster', it can release money under the National Disaster Response Fund, which will be a 100 percent grant from the Center to carry out rehabilitation works in the affected state. But there is no clarity on it.