The Supreme Court asked the central government to give information about the drought situation in 12 states with details relating to affected states, districts, taluks and villages as the government opposed the plea for appointment of a court commissioner to apprise it of the situation.
A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice N.V.Ramana sought the details from the central government as Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha said that it was for the states to decide whether a drought-like situation prevails in a state or not.
The 12 states that are hit by drought are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Haryana.
Putting the onus on the states to take a call whether a drought like situation prevailed or not, Narasimha said: “What are the factors based on which a situation can be declared as drought, it is in the domain of the state government and would be left to it.
“If in a situation the facts are so glaring (pointing to drought), then of course the court will exercise its judicial powers” and declare the drought, he said.
Turning the tables on Narasimha, the court asked: “If facts are so startling then the court can declare drought, then what is the role of the centre.”
“It is between the states and the court and centre has no role (if a state is affected with drought and is not declaring so),” observed Justice Ramana.
In response, Narasimha said: “It is for the state to decide. We (centre) send advisory. If state says no, it is no so (drought like situation), then we have to defer to it.”
But the court asked if the central government had given an advisory to Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
“We are not saying that the centre is all powerful. After assessing the situation and giving the advisory, what else you have done, given any financial assistance,” it asked, as Narasimha sought to project the legalistic argument that it was for the states to decide and the central government had only a limited role of issuing an advisory.
Against the backdrop of Gujarat earlier saying that it would not implement the National Food Security Act, the court asked Narasimha that when parliament enacts a law and the president gives his assent, can a state say that it will not implement it.
At this, the standing counsel of Gujarat Hemantika Wahi told the court that the central government had extended the date and the state was delayed two months of the extended date in implementing the act.
Asking Narasimha where the central government had said so in its affidavit, the court asked: “Under what provision of law they (centre) can do this (extend the date of implementation).”
The court is hearing a PIL by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking direction on the implementation of the welfare schemes in the 12 states and that relief under various welfare schemes including disbursal of dal, edible oil, egg and milk should be made available to all without making any distinction of below poverty line, above poverty line and others.
The next hearing of the matter is on April 19.