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EC go ahead given to deal with issue: Centre to SC on financial aid for Karnataka drought

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NEW DELHI, April 22: The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that the Election Commission has given clearance to it to deal with the issue raised by Karnataka regarding financial assistance for drought management.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta was hearing a plea filed by the Karnataka government seeking a direction to the Centre to release financial assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to the state for drought management.

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“The Election Commission has cleared the government to deal with this question. I think it will be done expeditiously,” Attorney General R Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre, told the bench.

He told the bench that the matter could be taken up next week.

“This should all be done amicably…we are having a federal structure,” the bench observed, while adjourning the matter.

While hearing the plea on April 8, the apex court had observed let there not be a “contest” between the Union and the state.

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The Attorney General and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who were appearing for the Centre, had told the bench they would seek instructions in the matter.

The petition has also sought to declare that the Centre’s action in not releasing the financial assistance for drought arrangement as per the NDRF is “ex-facie violative” of the fundamental rights of the people of the state guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

It said the state is reeling under “severe drought”, affecting the lives of its people and for the Kharif 2023 season, which starts in June and ends in September, a total of 223 out of 236 taluks are declared as drought-affected.

The plea said 196 taluks are categorised as severely affected and the remaining 27 as moderately affected.

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“Cumulatively for kharif 2023 season, the agriculture and horticulture crop loss have been reported in more than 48 lakh hectares with the estimated loss (cost of cultivation) of Rs 35,162 crore,” the plea, filed through advocate D L Chidananda, said.

It said the assistance sought from the Centre under the NDRF is Rs 18,171.44 crore.

It said the state is constrained to move the apex court against the “arbitrary actions” of the Centre in denying the financial assistance for drought management to Karnataka under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the manual for drought management updated in 2020.

“Further, the impugned action of the Central Government is violative of statutory scheme of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the manual for drought management and the guidelines on constitution and administration of the State Disaster Response Fund and National Disaster Response Fund,” the plea said.

It said under the manual for drought management, the Centre is required to take a final decision on the assistance to the state from the NDRF within a month of the receipt of the inter-ministerial central team (IMCT).

“Despite the IMCT report, which visited various drought affected districts from October 4 to 9, 2023 and made a comprehensive assessment of drought situation in the state and consideration of the said report by the sub-committee of the National Executive Committee constituted under section 9 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Centre has not taken a final decision on the assistance to the state from the NDRF even after a lapse of almost six months from the date of the said report,” the plea said.

It alleged that inaction on the part of the Centre to act on the report and take a final decision to release financial assistance to the state is “ex-facie illegal, arbitrary, and violative of fundamental rights” guaranteed to its citizens under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution. (PTI)





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