Angry SC Hauls Up Centre, States For Not Taking Drought Seriously
“Do you think we are two useless people sitting here to pass time, staring at the clock?”, SC asked angrily.
The Supreme Court on Thursday took strong exception to lack of seriousness shown by the central and drought-affected state governments despite the matter being heard for several days at stretch.
A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice N.V.Ramana pulled Additional Solicitor General Pinki Anand for being more engaged in a medical college row when a serious issue like drought is being examined by the apex court in a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan.
Displeased over the apparent lack of seriousness being shown by the government counsel, Justice Lokur summoned Anand who was busy in the hearing of the medical colleges row and asked as to how many additional solicitor generals were there and if the central government could not spare one for this hearing.
“Do you think we are two useless people sitting here to pass time, staring at the clock?” Justice Ramana asked, adding: “Is drought not a serious enough an issue for the centre.”
As Anand entered the court room and started addressing the bench, the court told her that “you can’t argue for 15-20 minutes and leave. Better you don’t argue now and let the states argue.
At a latter point, the court expressed displeasure at the state panel counsel of Gujarat and Haryana of being totally unprepared as to the measures being taken to ameliorate the plight of the drought-affected people in the states.
As a junior counsel representing Haryana could not give a satisfactory answer to the court’s query relating to the figures on rainfall data in different part of the state and had to repeatedly rely on the officer for feedback, the bench observed: “If your officer wants to argue or write judgment, let him do. We will sit back.”
“What is going on. This is the kind of seriousness we are showing. People are losing their lives on account of drought. We are not about some picnic in some part of Haryana.”
As counsel apologised, the bench said: “People will have to be sorry. It is they who going to suffer.”
The court also took exception to differing figures on the rainfall data given by the Haryana and central governments.
“Either what Union of India is telling is false or what you (Haryana) are telling us is false. Neither of you are misleading (the court), there is something wrong with our arithmetic,” the court observed mockingly.
At one stage when Anand sought to come to rescue of the Haryana counsel by referring to statistics in the central government’s affidavit, the bench said: “If Union of India wants to speak for all the states then let it do. But it can’t be that states don’t give any information.”
Similarly on the irrigation by the water from Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat, counsel Prashant Bhushan appearing for Swaraj Abhiyan pointed out the huge gap between the figures on the website of the dam on the potential of irrigation and actual irrigation.
When counsel for Gujarat told the court that figures on the dam’s website were from 2007-2008 and the latest actual figures were different, Justice Lokur observed: “You can’t say that my official file says one thing and my official website says something else.”
Faced with conflicting figures, the court asked Anand if “supposing you are given figures which are inaccurate or incorrect, do you accept it as it is or crosscheck it” and she reponded that they cross-check rainfall figurers with Indian Meteorological Department.
Gujarat admitted to the delay in undertaking the assessment of the drought situation for 2015, attributing it to the local bodies elections.
In the course of the hearing, the court questioned Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana why they hadn’t declared drought despite insufficient rainfall in the states in 2015.
The three states have refused to declare drought despite deficient rainfall contending that their agriculture was irrigation-based, supported by water drawn by the tube wells and canal network and despite deficient rainfall, the crop yield had not suffered and was in the range of 95 to 103 percent.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.
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