Can Kerala flood 2018 be termed a ‘national disaster’? A reality check on Rahul Gandhi’s jab at PM Modi

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New Delhi | August 20, 2018 3:06 PM

Congress president Rahul Gandhi said it was critical that the Prime Minister declare the Kerala floods as a "national disaster" and asked him not to vacillate as the people of the southern state were suffering.

kerala flood newsKerala flood 2018: Kerala needs help badly and urgently

The Kerala floods that have ravaged ‘God’s own country’ is slowly building up into a full blown political battle over the allocation of central funds by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Congress president Rahul Gandhi said it was critical that the Prime Minister declare the Kerala floods as a “national disaster” and asked him not to vacillate as the people of the southern state were suffering.

“Dear PM, Increasing funds allocated for Kerala relief to Rs.500 Cr is a good step but nowhere near enough. It is critical you declare the floods as a National Disaster. Please do not vacillate as the people of Kerala are suffering (sic),” he said in a tweet. As the war over declaring the Kerala flood “national disaster” rages, let’s take a look at the criteria behind categorising any natural calamity as a disaster in India.

What is a disaster?

Disaster Management Act, 2005 defines “disaster” as calamity, catastrophe and mishap 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. Earthquake, flood, landslide, cyclone, tsunami, urban flood and heatwave are included in the list of natural disasters. Man-made disaster can be categorised into biological, chemical and nuclear, according to Indian Express report.

What can be called a national calamity?

There is no provision, executive or legal, to declare a natural calamity as a national calamity. “The existing guidelines of State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF)/ National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), do not contemplate declaring a disaster as a ‘National Calamity’. In March 2001, then MoS (Agriculture) Shripad Naik had told Parliament that the government had treated the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the 1999 super cyclone in Odisha as “a calamity of unprecedented severity,” MoS (Home) Kiren Rijiju informed Parliment during the recently concluded monsoon session.

How does Centre categorise disasters/calamities?

A proposal to the 10th Finance Commission (1995-2000) stated that a disaster can be termed “a national calamity of rarest severity” if it affects one-third of the population of a state. While the panel did not define a “calamity of rare severity”, it, however, stated that a calamity of rare severity would necessarily have to be adjudged on a case-to-case basis taking into account, inter-alia, the intensity and magnitude of the calamity, level of assistance needed, the capacity of the state to tackle the problem, the alternatives and flexibility available within the plans to provide succour and relief, etc. The flash floods in Uttarakhand and “Cyclone Hudhud” were later classified as calamities of “severe nature”.

What is to be done during a disaster of “rare severity”/”severe nature”?

The state government is provided assistance at the national level. The Centre also considers additional assistance from the NDRF. A Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) is set up, with the corpus shared 3:1 between Centre and state. When resources in the CRF are inadequate, additional assistance is considered from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), funded 100% by the Centre.

Funds released by Centre towards the NDRF?

According to information provided by Rijiju in Parliament, the Centre released Rs 3,460.88 crore in 2014-15, Rs 12,451.9 crore in 2015-16, and Rs 11,441.30 crore in 2016-17 under the NDRF to various states. In 2017-18 until December 27, it had disbursed Rs 2,082.45 crore. State-wise figures presented by Rijiju showed that the highest amounts for 2016-17 were released to Karnataka (Rs 2,292.50 crore), Maharashtra (Rs 2,224.78 crore) and Rajasthan (Rs 1,378.13 crore).

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