India: Undefined calamity

Source(s): Orissa Post

By Sanjeeb Panigrahi

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Every disaster drains physical, cultural and emotional energy resulting from damaging socio-economic losses. However, political capital gets banked through futile rhetoric. For example, after every natural calamity there is a clamour to declare the said calamity as a “national calamity”. Fani has also given rise to such voices owing to the immensity of destruction. The Union government has declared Fani as an ‘extremely severe’ natural calamity that makes the state government eligible to seek logistic and financial assistance for relief and restoration before the Union government.

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All issues related to natural disasters and management of issues arising therefrom are governed by Disaster Management Act, guidelines framed under the Act and statutes made by different states. Section-2 (d) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, 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 that 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 a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”. Natural disasters include earthquakes, floods, landslides, cyclones, tsunamis, urban floods and heatwave; man-made disasters include nuclear meltdown or biological and chemical incidents. The Act, however, does not define ‘National Disaster’. There is no provision in statutes or manuals or any code to declare a disaster a ‘national disaster’, howsoever devastating it may be. It is only an expression used in general parlance or in media circles.

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Fact is, the demand for “National Disaster” status for a calamity is raised either out of sheer ignorance or as a deliberate political ploy. While demand for more central funds does make better sense, the clamour for this particular label does not. According to National Disaster Management Policy, state governments have to provide disaster relief from their respective State Disaster Response Funds (SDRFs), and only a “calamity of severe nature” makes them eligible for additional assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).

It is not charity that the Union of India shows Odisha or any other affected state; the Union government is constitutionally and morally obliged to grant funds to calamity-ravaged state or states. Even without declaring the current calamity as national calamity, the Union government is duty-bound to address the genuine concerns of the state without discrimination or ill will. Neither are state governments beggars nor is the Union government a donor; the federal spirit dictates the whole exercise.

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