Kerala floods were devastating. The whole nation stood by Kerala in their hour of need. The administration rose up to the occasion and with perfect coordination successfully conducted the relief and rescue operations. It goes without saying this was possible due to well-planned coordinated operation by the state and the central government with total involvement of the local government as well. When the whole concentration should have been on how best to help the administration in this mammoth task there were some who were busy raising avoidable issues and controversies .
Some talk of North- South angle in the flood relief assistance and others about the insensitivity of the central government . But the most uncharitable comment came from the finance minister of Kerala government Isaac Thomas who tweeted: “We asked Union Gov for financial support of 2200 Cr ; they grant us a precious 600 Cr . We make no request to any foreign gov but UAE gov voluntarily offer 700cr. No, says Union gov, it is below our dignity to accept foreign aid. This is a dog in the manger policy.”
When relief and rescue operations are in full swing if there is any lack of support from central government in any of those activities one can understand an important public functionary like the minister in the state government voicing his concern. This was a complaint about the inadequacy of the financial support from Government of India and the refusal to accept the foreign support , not about the inadequacies in the logistic and other support from government of India Departments, the Army and the NDRF. Let us first understand how the system works in relief and rescue operations in any major natural calamity in this country to get a better appreciation of the relevance of comments by some not connected with the relief operations and the specific remark of the finance minister of Kerala.
Disaster management is not listed separately in the central, state or the concurrent list in the Constitution. Disaster Management Act as well as the management plan make it clear the fundamental responsibility for handling any disaster lies with the state government and that the necessary support and assistance will be provided by Government of India. The same is also reiterated by the Finance Commission which provides overall funding for disaster management. The act provides for the Constitution of National Disaster Management Authority at the central level with Prime Minister as the chairman and the state disaster management authority at the state level with the chief minister as the chairman and the District disaster Management authority with collector as the chairman.
More importantly three committees are constituted one with the Cabinet Secretary heading at the central level, Chief Secretary at the state level and District Collector at the district level. These committees play crucial role in coordinating relief and rehabilitation activities in any natural calamity and meet through video conferencing facility on a daily basis and take stock of the situation and plan the relief and rescue activities. All work with full coordination and are focused to handle the disaster.
I can vouch from my own personal experience of having dealt with Hudhud cyclone rescue and relief operations as chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh that this coordination played a very effective role in tackling the disaster and I am sure experience of present chief secretary of Kerala would be no different. There were times when I had occasion to disturb the home secretary and defence secretary at odd hours and the response was swift and focused on problem-solving. It is this collective effort today that gives India an effective system in tackling any natural calamity far better than many other countries. National Disaster Response Force is a professional force and an asset in conducting rescue operations.
Regarding the funding pattern for disaster management the same is covered by the Finance commission award. After the Disaster Management Act was promulgated, the 13th and 14th Finance Commissions concentrated on setting up of dedicated funds NDRF and SDRF at the central and the state levels respectively and the means of financing them. Specific duties on certain commodities levied by centre go to constitute the NDRF. The state specific funds SDRF are financed from the NDRF as per the finance commission award. The ratio of sharing funds for SDRF is in the proportion of 90:10 between central and the state government. Based upon the earlier years expenditures entitlements of different state SDRFs are fixed.
As per the 14th Finance commission award for the period between 2015 to2020, entitlements to different states is Rs 55,000 crore towards 90% contribution from central government and Kerala is entitled to 900 crores during this five- year period. Since the criteria adopted by the 14th Finance Commission is the earlier expenditure towards disaster relief states like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and others where such disasters occurred earlier get higher allocation compared to Kerala. The Finance Commission award apparently does not give the flexibility to the central government to reallocate these funds if no disaster occurs in certain states for whom higher allocation is made based on earlier expenditure. This may be a issue for consideration by the 15th finance commission.
Hence Kerala‘s request for higher allocation for meeting present disaster is very reasonable. What the Prime Minister announces when he visits disaster affected area is only interim allocation. Final allocation would be decided after a team visits and makes assessment of the intensity of losses. In any case this may not really come in the way of immediate relief and rescue operations. Regarding acceptance of assistance from foreign countries the manual gives the discretion to the central government.
Central government may have to take number of parameters into consideration before taking a call on that. The scales of assistance are already fixed and if the scales get skewed to certain states due to foreign contribution coming in that would result in an unfair advantage to those states compared to other states faced with natural disasters of same intensity. In any case this particular foreign assistance turned out to be illusory.
Hence the remarks of the finance minister of Kerala are uncharitable and uncalled for. As the finance minister of the state I’m sure he is fully aware of all these facts. In the Indian democracy the problem is more with wolves in the pen than dogs at the manger. Regarding the North-South issue , some people without any knowledge are raising ,definitely there is a North- South issue. If a natural calamity of same intensity were to occur in eastern UP or Bihar it would not have got the same focus, attention and help. The people there would have taken it in their stride in a passive way and the leaders would have also not got it into a real focus. This is the difference we can see between more articulate and better educated South compared to the north.