Disaster management: Government must allocate funds but needs to address recurring implementation challenges

By: | Published: October 18, 2018 3:46 AM

A panel of state finance ministers formed to recommend ways to mobilise funding for natural calamities and disasters has sought the view of the GST Council on whether a disaster cess/tax should be imposed nationwide or in a state-specific manner.

NDRF, calamityCollections from the National Calamity Contingent Duty—a major contributor to the NDRF—have been declining, having fallen from Rs 6,450 crore in FY17 to Rs 3,660 crore in FY18. (PTI)

A panel of state finance ministers formed to recommend ways to mobilise funding for natural calamities and disasters has sought the view of the GST Council on whether a disaster cess/tax should be imposed nationwide or in a state-specific manner. Acknowledging the fact that the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) was inadequate in lessening the blow of natural calamities, the panel wants the states’ view on whether such a cess/tax violates the law. Collections from the National Calamity Contingent Duty—a major contributor to the NDRF—have been declining, having fallen from Rs 6,450 crore in FY17 to Rs 3,660 crore in FY18. However, a cess may not be the best way to it. Funding disaster management will be better served if done through budget provisioning. Cess collections have tended to become cesspools of inefficient spending—as per an Indiaspend report, just 29% of the clean energy cess on coal was transferred to the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund between 2010-11 and 2016-17.

Also, another area that disaster management strategies need to be tweaked for is better implementation. It is hard to foresee the scale of damage from a natural calamity, but the government must rely on scientific data and prepare for worst-case scenarios—something that Kerala failed to do despite warnings on excessive late monsoonal rainfall. In sharp contrast, Odisha learnt the right lessons from the category-5 cyclone that killed over 15,000 people in 1999, and was ready when Phailin, a cyclone of similar intensity struck in 2013, having managed to evacuate 5.5 lakh people from areas that saw the most destruction before the cyclone hit—though 44 lives were still lost, this was a fraction of the 1999 loss. If adequate disaster relief protocols are to be established, appropriate response mechanisms need to be institutionalised and enacted. If India has to get better at disaster management, apart from funding, it needs to tackle challenges of implementation.

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