Don't dig well when house is on fire: SC to Centre on tackling drought

The SC asked the Centre to be ready with relief measures for drought in the country.

“Don’t dig the well when the house is on fire,” the Supreme Court said on Wednesday warning the Centre of not repeating the “mistakes” this time as it committed while tackling the drought situation in various parts of the country in 2015.

Asking the government to be ready with relief measures for drought in certain parts of country, the apex court slammed the Centre saying, “we are concerned about the approach. You should change your mindset. Don’t repeat last year’s mistake of not declaring drought on time. Don’t dig the well when the house is on fire.”

The observation by a bench of Justices MB Lokur and NV Ramana came when it was pointed out that several districts in the country have had deficient rainfall and a situation like last year may emerge again which may catch the government napping.

Clearly exasperated over the way things were happening with states not complying with its orders and the Centre telling the court that it had sent them a communication, Justice Ramana said, “If this is the way the matter is going on, there is no need to hear it. We are wasting your time.”

Defending the government, additional Solicitor General PS Narsimha, said, “it is wrong to say that Centre is not dealing with the drought-like situation. The process is going on as directed by the court. We are revising our drought manual as per suggestions and recommendations made by experts and other bodies.”

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’, pointed out that several districts have reported deficient rainfall as per the data of the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

The bench said that as per data supplied to it, 12 districts in Bihar, 32 in Uttar Pradesh, 11 in Punjab and 13 in Gujarat have received deficient rainfall.

Narsimha pointed out that advisories have been issued to these states which have been told about the emerging situation.

“Our idea is that you are ready for the future. Past mistakes are not repeated. You should be prepared for the situation, although the condition is not as bad as it was last year,” the bench said.

A central government official informed the court that over 35 lakh hectares of farm land have been sown and the Centre was providing all technical assistance to states.

The apex court, is hearing a PIL on the plight of farmers in 12 states which were affected by drought last year.

The apex court also questioned Maharashtra over its failure to give response on the appointment of District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO) under the National Food Security Act.

“How is it that you don’t have any instructions? Is this how you treat people? People are dying of malnutrition and you don’t care about them. There is a huge population and some people die, it doesn’t matter to you? How is that the state government has not given you any instruction,” the bench asked after the counsel appearing for Maharashtra said he has no instruction on the issue.

The bench also inquired from counsel for parties about a news report on several children dying due to malnutrition.

Bhushan said there were some death reported due to malnutrition from Uttar Pradesh, but he had no idea of Maharashtra.

In its PIL, NGO Swaraj Abhiyan has alleged that parts of 12 states — Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh — were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief.

The apex court had earlier issued a slew of directions to provide relief to the farmers in drought-affected states.

In strong observations, the court had then said if state governments maintained an “ostrich-like attitude” towards disasters like drought, the Centre cannot wash its hands off from the constitutional responsibility as the “buck stops” with it in matters concerning common people.