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Happy Dussehra and Diwali to all Readers.          November 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019


The politics of flood relief

Mamtha Sharma in Bengaluru

This year’s monsoon, the heaviest witnessed in recent years , has taken a heavy toll of men and material impacting millions who have lost virtually everything they had , including their homes, cattle, farm lands, not to mention their dear ones.

While flooding during monsoons is not an uncommon phenomenon , the unprecedented rains caused damage to several lakh hectares of farm land, in the process crippling the already stressed farmers.

Karnataka, for example, received substantially more than normal rainfall between August 3 and 10, the highest recorded in the state in 118 years, followed by more rains in the subsequent month, officials told Power Politics. This led to flooding and landslides on an unprecedented scale, besides raising the inflow to over six lakh cusecs in the Krishna river alone. Consequently, it affected parts of north Karnataka ,including Belgavi, Raichur, Yadgir and Bagalkot. Overall 21 of the 30 districts were severely impacted.

Similarly, Bihar’s capital,Patna, bore the brunt of the rain gods, receiving over 200 mm of rainfall which the Disaster Management Department termed as totally unexpected. Patna, in fact, had not seen such floods since 1975 though cities in districts like Araria, Banka, Munger, Muzaffarpur and Samastipur too were badly affected.

The story was no better in other states and allied cities which suffered equally . Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttrakhand or, for that matter, Himachal Pradesh , to name but a few, were witness to the damage that such rains and the accompanying floods can wreak.

In fact, Kerala,which was slowly recovering from the havoc caused by floods last year, bore the brunt once again this time with Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Ernakulam, Idukki, Thrissur, Palakkad, Kannur and Kasargod districts suffering the most.

A view of a damaged house in a flood affected area in Assam Monsoon rains cause havoc in Kerala Flood-hit residents of Muzaffarpur, Bihar

It was not surprising , therefore, to see virtually every state seeking substantial funds from the Centre by way of flood assistance. If Karnataka assessed the damage due to flood havoc in the state to over Rs 35000 crore this time , other states varied their estimates from Rs 20,000 and above.

While it is incumbent for the Centre to provide the needed assistance to the flood ravaged states, the aid which follows is not commensurate with the demand. This has become a sore point with the states which often forget ,even if conveniently, that the assistance comes under the umbrella of the National Disaster Relief Fund and the States Disaster Relief Fund. More importantly, it is to take care of the emergency needs.

In fact, the Centre supplements the affected states’ efforts by providing assistance for immediate relief through the SDRF and the NDRF as per established procedure. The SDRF has been constituted for each state.

As a senior official explained, the Centre contributes 75 per cent for general category states and 90 per cent for North-Eastern and hilly states in terms of the SDRF allocation each year.”” The first charge of relief expenditure is on the SDRF and in the case of calamities of severe nature, it is supplemented from the NDRF as per established procedure.

Did the Centre ignore K’nataka ?

Invariably ,however, the Central assistance for flood relief leads to controversies with the exact disbursement of amounts being questioned. In the case of Karnataka, for example, the delay in assistance this year , added to the debate with the opposition JDS and Congress hauling the ruling BJP over the coals in this context.

B S Yediyurappa Especially, as the Centre provided assistance of Rs 1200 crore after making the state wait for over 50 days against an assessed damage of over RS 35000 crore. Predictably, a stage came when chief minister, B S Yediyurappa, was even forced to think in terms of resigning in protest, to go by BJP insiders.
Not surprising though, as he found himself being ridiculed and pilloried as Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not even bother to give him an audience every time he went to seek help. What perhaps humiliated him more was that it was his own party’s leadership at the helm in New Delhi.
Similarly, going by Kerala’s earlier experience , the Centre’s initial assistance of Rs 600 odd crore was poor, to say the least though subsequently another Rs 2000 crore was provided. What added to the state’s pain ,however, was the fact that the Centre refused to accept foreign assistance for flood relief.
This even led to a major controversy with the state government accusing the Centre with playing politics. Especially as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Maldives had offered substantial support in this regard. In the UAE a huge chunk of people from Kerala live. It alone offered Rs 700 crore as flood relief.

While the Centre stood firm on this count citing policy decisions regarding self reliance, even arguing that during the 2004 Tsunami too, it had declined foreign assistance, the Kerala government,its people and supporters were not pleased. A taste of the prevailing mood in that state then can be gauged from the Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac ‘s reaction.

Tweeting on the issue, he had said that “ the National Disaster Management Plan Chapter 9 on international cooperation accepts that in times of severe calamity, voluntary aid given by a foreign gov can be accepted. Still if Union Gov chooses to adopt a negative stance towards offer made by the UAE gov , they should compensate Kerala.” Some critics even blamed the Centre with playing politics,considering the not so friendly relations between the Left and the BJP.

Kerala, Karnataka, or for that matter, other states have no doubt suffered in terms of actual initial disbursement of central assistance though experts have their own explanation. One newspaper had quoted a consultant from the Indian Institute of Public Administration as saying that the Central funds during such calamities come from the National Disaster Response Fund.This ,in turn,is decided by the Finance Commission . Therefore, it is the FC which takes the call after examining the performance of the affected states covering a period of ten to 15 years.

Significantly, past trends indicate that despite the huge damage caused by such calamities the initial central aid has always been limited and not in tune with the damage assessed by the states concerned. For example, in the 2005 floods in Maharashtra, against a damage of Rs 6000 crore,the aid from the centre stood at Rs 700 crore.

Similarly, in 2009 while Andhra Pradesh had assessed the damage due to the severe floods at Rs 12000 crore, it received only Rs 1000 crore from the centre as initial aid. Likewise, in 2014, against a damage of over Rs 40,000 crore which the J &K government had placed before the Centre following the severe floods in that state, it received only Rs 1000 crore as immediate assistance.

Accordingly, today for the flood affected states to cry foul against the Centre, may not be a worthwhile exercise when viewed in the backdrop of the initial assistance that was provided to other states in the past by different governments at New Delhi.

What, however, remains inexplicable is the fact that the Centre took inordinately long to release assistance to Karnataka , despite the aerial surveys conducted by the home minister and his team. This is something that is difficult to understand. More so as in comparison, Bihar which too saw rains and floods wreaking havoc last month,managed to get prompt assistance of Rs 600 crore from the centre.

If anything, this prompt response in Bihar’s case added grist to the political mill, especially as the ruling BJP in Karnataka was hard put to it to explain the delay in Central aid. Of equal significance to the critics of the ruling party in the BJP ruled southern state was the fact that the Prime Minister was quick to telephone the Bihar chief minister and express his support in tackling the flood situation, a gesture which was conspicuous by its absence in Karnataka’s case.

For chief minister Yediyurappa, these developments have made things more difficult today as the state government has already gone public with the cry that it is facing a funds crunch. Accordingly, the comparatively low basic Central assistance for now, coupled with its own resource constraint, is making the going tough for the Yediyurappa government..

While the Opposition has been criticising Yediyurappa, he has not been able to explain as to why the Centre was quick to announce flood relief for Bihar while it waited for nearly two months to do so in Karnataka’s case.