Help Kerala

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 31 Aug 2018 11:49:01

Pursuant to the national disaster management guidelines, the Centre has categorised the Kerala flood situation as L3 disaster and treated it as a disaster of serious nature. The L3 status means that the Centre must help a State with its personnel and funds, which the Modi Government has already begun to do in the case of the Kerala floods, officials say.

By YASHWARDHAN JOSHI


KERALA is facing a natural calamity of humongous proportions-- more than 400 people dead in monsoon floods so far and at least a million rendered homeless and in relief camps.


Yet, the Centre has declined to declare the calamity as a national disaster despite repeated demands by the Opposition Congress and the State Government.
But are the demands justified in the first place? Does the tag really matter? Or is politics being played over death and devastation?


After Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an aerial survey of the State and announced Rs. 500 crore as relief in addition to Rs. 100 crore already declared by the Centre, the Congress President said it was not enough and demanded that the calamity be declared as a national disaster.


But is there any provision in law to declare a calamity as a national disaster, and will it matter if such a declaration is made. The Centre says there is no such provision in statutes or manuals. It is only an expression used in general parlance.


Experts agree on this. They say the only official classification of natural disasters available in India is L0 (level 0), L1, L2, and L3. L0 refers to normal times when there is no disaster. L1 when disasters can be managed at the district level but the Centre and the State must be ready to provide assistance if needed. L2 disasters are those that may need assistance and active participation of the State, as well as State-level mobilisation of resources. And L3 refers to situations arising from large-scale disasters, wherein districts and the State may not have the capacity to respond adequately and need assistance from the Centre. 


Pursuant to the national disaster management guidelines, the Centre has categorised the Kerala flood situation as L3 disaster and treated it as a disaster of serious nature. The L3 status means that the Centre must help a State with its personnel and funds, which the Modi Government has already begun to do in the case of the Kerala floods, officials say.


But for a State that faces thousands of crores of rupees in devastation, and thousands of crores of rupees more needed in rebuilding the infrastructure, including more than 83,000 kms of roads, is Rs. 600 crore enough? Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has sought a special package of Rs. 2,600 crore from the Centre for relief and rehabilitation.


He will also ask the Centre to increase the cap on the State’s market borrowing so that Kerala can borrow an additional Rs. 10,500 crore from the market.


“The Government is planning to build a new Kerala, not just rebuild what existed before the floods,” he said. The Central assistance, he said, was a paltry amount for rebuilding a new State. The Congress said the Prime Minister was playing petty politics over flood relief and should show large-heartedness in providing more Central assistance to flood-hit Kerala. “The Prime Minister has announced a paltry sum of Rs. 500 crore for the State which is witnessing a disaster of over Rs. 19,000 crore,” a Congress leader said.


In a counter, the Centre said it was either out of sheer ignorance or deliberate political mischief that the State Government and other Opposition leaders, including Congress President Rahul Gandhi, were demanding a “national calamity” tag for the Kerala floods. It said it has already dispatched relief and rescue teams to the flood-ravaged areas.


Over the years, the Centre has, however, been inconsistent in putting a tag of national disaster on natural calamities The 2017 floods in Gujarat, Bihar, Assam and West Bengal were not termed “national disasters”. However, when floods occurred in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014, Prime Minister Modi did use the term “national-level disaster” even though the death toll was significantly lower than that in the 2017 Bihar floods.


The release of funds have also been erratic over the years.
Last year, Bihar which was affected by floods got Rs 1,711 crore in Central assistance, Gujarat got Rs 1,055 crore, West Bengal Rs 838 crore, and Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh Rs 420 crore each. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which were affected by kharif drought, got Rs 836 crore and Rs 395 crore, respectively.


Hence, the tag may not matter much when it comes to Central assistance. States in the past have got much more funds even when no label of national calamity was attached on the disasters they suffered. What is needed is the realisation that a natural disaster anywhere is a national calamity and the coffers should be opened magnanimously.No label, but no politics also.
(IFS)