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Why Did Centre Not Declare Kerala Floods a National Disaster?

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 has no provision to define a calamity as a ‘natural disaster’.

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Why did the central government not declare Kerala floods a national disaster?
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“Dear PM, please declare Kerala floods a National Disaster without any delay. The lives, livelihood and future of millions of our people is at stake.”

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s appeal on Twitter was also echoed by the ruling Left, but on Monday, 20 August, the central government responded by declaring the deluge a “calamity of severe nature”.

Kerala sought a Rs 2,600 crore special package from the centre even as the state struggled to find its feet after the devastating deluge left more 350 dead and displaced lakhs of people.

But why did the central government not call it a national disaster? Because despite attempts by previous governments, there is no legal provision for defining a national disaster.

Here is a look at how calamities are classified and what these classifications entail for the victims.

Why Did Centre Not Declare Kerala Floods a National Disaster?

  1. 1. Is There Something Called a National Disaster?

    The Disaster Management Act of 2005, which guides India’s disaster planning does not have any provision for notifying any disaster as a ‘national calamity’ or a ‘national disaster’. In fact, the Act does not have clear demarcations for national, state or local level disasters. The Act only defines a disaster as:

    A catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence 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 nature or magnitude, as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.

    Expand
  2. 2. How to Classify Natural Disasters?

    The National Disaster Management Plan 2016, published by the National Disaster Management Authority, categorises disasters into three levels – L1, L2 and L3 – based on “the vulnerability of disaster-affected area, and the capacity of the authorities to deal with the situation.”

    Although these categories find no mention in DM Act 2005, the NDMP specifically outlines the scope of each of these categories:

    Level-L1: The level of disaster that can be managed within the capabilities and resources at the district level. However, the state authorities will remain in readiness to provide assistance if needed.

    Level-L2: The level of disaster which requires assistance and active mobilisation of resources at the state level. At this level, the state is required to deploy its agencies for for disaster management. The central agencies must remain vigilant for immediate deployment if required by the state.

    Level-L3: This corresponds to a nearly catastrophic situation or a very large-scale disaster that goes beyond the response capacity of the State and District authorities and require assistance from the central government for reinstating the state and district machinery.

    This is the level when the Central government can declare the calamity of “severe nature” like it has done in the Kerala floods.
    Expand
  3. 3. What Happens When a Disaster is Declared 'Severe'?

    When a calamity is declared to be of 'rare severity'/'severe nature' support to the state government is provided at the national level. The Centre also considers additional assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (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 percent by the Centre. Relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans to the persons affected on concessional terms too, are considered once a calamity is declared ‘severe’.

    Expand
  4. 4. How is the Funding Decided?

    Since management of disasters is considered a state matter, according to NDMP, the primary responsibility for undertaking rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures during a disaster lies with the state governments. But the central government pitches in through logistic and financial support during ‘severe’ disasters on request of the state governments.

    The National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009 reads that any “major crises that have serious or national ramifications” are dealt by the National Crisis Management Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

    How Does the Centre Assess the Quantum of Assistance to be Provided to the Affected State During Severe Calamities?

    • Inter-Ministerial Central Teams are deputed to the affected states for assessment of damage caused by the calamity and the amount of relief assistance required.
    • An Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG), headed by the Union Home Secretary, analyses the findings of the central teams and recommends the level of assistant that the state requires from the National Disaster Response Fund(NDRF) or National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF).
    • Based on the recommendations, a high-level committee comprising the Finance Minister as chairman, the Home Minister, Agriculture Minister, and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman approves the quantum of central assistance.
    According to Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) guidelines, in the event of “calamity of severe nature” in any part of the country, a Lok Sabha MP from the non-affected areas can recommend work up to a maximum of Rs 1 crore for the affected district.

    Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had visited the state on 12 August and declared an immediate assistance of Rs 100 crore to Kerala. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the state on 16 August, had announced an aid of Rs 500 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).

    The central government has also decided to give ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the family of those killed in the floods and Rs 50,000 to the injured.

    Expand
  5. 5. What Happened in the Past?

    In 2001, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had mandated the National Committee on Disaster Management to suggest parameters to define a ‘national calamity’. However, the committee did not fix any criteria for the classification.

    In reply to a question in Parliament during the recent monsoon session, Minister of State (Home) Kiren Rijiju had also said that 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," he had said.

    Then MoS (Agriculture) Shripad Naik, in 2001, 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”, reported The Indian Express.

    Experts believe that the phrase ‘national disaster’ is bandied and tossed around by politicians without consistency or uniformity.

    In the recent past, there have been demands from states to declare natural disasters like the Uttarakhand flood in 2013, Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh in 2014, and the Assam floods of 2015 as ‘national disasters’. However, the flash floods in Uttarakhand and Cyclone Hudhud were later classified as “calamities of severe nature”.

    The confusion over the terminology extends to disbursement of funds from the Union Government too. While Manmohan Singh government assisted Uttarakhand in 2013 with Rs 1,000 crore for a loss of 5,700 lives, Tamil Nadu almost got the same amount (Rs 939.6 crore) in 2015 although the floods had a significantly lower death toll.

    Expand
  6. 6. National Disaster Managament a State Matter

    According to NDMP, disaster management is mostly a state subject and the central government only plays a supporting role. The central agencies will participate only on the request from the state government.

    It said, “Within each state, there is a separate institutional framework for disaster management at the state-level. The Disaster Management Act of 2005 provides for the setting up of National Disaster Management Authority at national level, and the State Disaster Management Authority at the state level.”

    The guidelines also specifies that the extent of involvement of central agencies will depend on the type, scale, and administrative spread of the disaster. It reads, “If the situation requires the direct assistance from central government or the deployment of central agencies, the central government will provide all necessary support irrespective of the classification of the disaster.”

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Is There Something Called a National Disaster?

The Disaster Management Act of 2005, which guides India’s disaster planning does not have any provision for notifying any disaster as a ‘national calamity’ or a ‘national disaster’. In fact, the Act does not have clear demarcations for national, state or local level disasters. The Act only defines a disaster as:

A catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence 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 nature or magnitude, as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.

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How to Classify Natural Disasters?

The National Disaster Management Plan 2016, published by the National Disaster Management Authority, categorises disasters into three levels – L1, L2 and L3 – based on “the vulnerability of disaster-affected area, and the capacity of the authorities to deal with the situation.”

Although these categories find no mention in DM Act 2005, the NDMP specifically outlines the scope of each of these categories:

Level-L1: The level of disaster that can be managed within the capabilities and resources at the district level. However, the state authorities will remain in readiness to provide assistance if needed.

Level-L2: The level of disaster which requires assistance and active mobilisation of resources at the state level. At this level, the state is required to deploy its agencies for for disaster management. The central agencies must remain vigilant for immediate deployment if required by the state.

Level-L3: This corresponds to a nearly catastrophic situation or a very large-scale disaster that goes beyond the response capacity of the State and District authorities and require assistance from the central government for reinstating the state and district machinery.

This is the level when the Central government can declare the calamity of “severe nature” like it has done in the Kerala floods.

What Happens When a Disaster is Declared 'Severe'?

When a calamity is declared to be of 'rare severity'/'severe nature' support to the state government is provided at the national level. The Centre also considers additional assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (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 percent by the Centre. Relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans to the persons affected on concessional terms too, are considered once a calamity is declared ‘severe’.

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How is the Funding Decided?

Since management of disasters is considered a state matter, according to NDMP, the primary responsibility for undertaking rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures during a disaster lies with the state governments. But the central government pitches in through logistic and financial support during ‘severe’ disasters on request of the state governments.

The National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009 reads that any “major crises that have serious or national ramifications” are dealt by the National Crisis Management Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

How Does the Centre Assess the Quantum of Assistance to be Provided to the Affected State During Severe Calamities?

  • Inter-Ministerial Central Teams are deputed to the affected states for assessment of damage caused by the calamity and the amount of relief assistance required.
  • An Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG), headed by the Union Home Secretary, analyses the findings of the central teams and recommends the level of assistant that the state requires from the National Disaster Response Fund(NDRF) or National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF).
  • Based on the recommendations, a high-level committee comprising the Finance Minister as chairman, the Home Minister, Agriculture Minister, and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman approves the quantum of central assistance.
According to Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) guidelines, in the event of “calamity of severe nature” in any part of the country, a Lok Sabha MP from the non-affected areas can recommend work up to a maximum of Rs 1 crore for the affected district.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had visited the state on 12 August and declared an immediate assistance of Rs 100 crore to Kerala. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the state on 16 August, had announced an aid of Rs 500 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).

The central government has also decided to give ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the family of those killed in the floods and Rs 50,000 to the injured.

What Happened in the Past?

In 2001, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had mandated the National Committee on Disaster Management to suggest parameters to define a ‘national calamity’. However, the committee did not fix any criteria for the classification.

In reply to a question in Parliament during the recent monsoon session, Minister of State (Home) Kiren Rijiju had also said that 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," he had said.

Then MoS (Agriculture) Shripad Naik, in 2001, 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”, reported The Indian Express.

Experts believe that the phrase ‘national disaster’ is bandied and tossed around by politicians without consistency or uniformity.

In the recent past, there have been demands from states to declare natural disasters like the Uttarakhand flood in 2013, Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh in 2014, and the Assam floods of 2015 as ‘national disasters’. However, the flash floods in Uttarakhand and Cyclone Hudhud were later classified as “calamities of severe nature”.

The confusion over the terminology extends to disbursement of funds from the Union Government too. While Manmohan Singh government assisted Uttarakhand in 2013 with Rs 1,000 crore for a loss of 5,700 lives, Tamil Nadu almost got the same amount (Rs 939.6 crore) in 2015 although the floods had a significantly lower death toll.

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National Disaster Managament a State Matter

According to NDMP, disaster management is mostly a state subject and the central government only plays a supporting role. The central agencies will participate only on the request from the state government.

It said, “Within each state, there is a separate institutional framework for disaster management at the state-level. The Disaster Management Act of 2005 provides for the setting up of National Disaster Management Authority at national level, and the State Disaster Management Authority at the state level.”

The guidelines also specifies that the extent of involvement of central agencies will depend on the type, scale, and administrative spread of the disaster. It reads, “If the situation requires the direct assistance from central government or the deployment of central agencies, the central government will provide all necessary support irrespective of the classification of the disaster.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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