Central Government Must Up-date Disaster Assistance Norms
The rains have ceased in Chandrapur and the government survey teams have started to visit areas affected for assessment of damage caused by excessive rains and floods. The survey of crop damage is done by teams led by Circle Revenue Inspector and Krushi Sahayak while the damage to houses in assessed by teams lead by Talathi. The initial survey findings are announced at village level and finalised after objections are filed by local people. The survey process is going to take several days as the damage is quite extensive across the district. For instance, according to Ravindra Holi, Tehsildar Mul, the survey will cover all 112 villages in block. “Survey teams led by Mandal Adhikaris and Krushi Sahayak will survey around 1500 ha of paddy, 2400 ha of saplings prepared for transplantation and between 2000 – 3000 ha of cotton. The Talathi will take stock of fully and partially damaged houses and other damages.”
While the survey goes on, there is already speculation about the exact amount of ‘assistance’ that the people may expect. These worries are not unfounded because in the past people have received laughably magre amounts. The NDRF and the SDRF are constituted vide sections 46 and 48 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Out-dated Norms of Assistance
On 8 April 2015 the Central Government issued notification regarding the norms for assistance to the calamity affected persons and the same were adopted in toto by the Maharashtra government by a Government Resolution (G.R) dated 13 May 2015.These norms, which provides for the monetary assistance for various items, were adopted for the period 2015-2020. Although a period of two years have lapsed these norms were not updated either by the central government or by the state government. In 20220 the Central Government formed an expert committee to make recommendations regarding the revision of norms but nothing concrete has come out of it and the same norms of 2015 are still in operation.
The main problem is that the norms of 2015 are too meagre and the disaster-affected persons are not really helped by such pittances. It is a cruel joke that the government is playing on the citizens by making elaborate surveys but providing assistance so little that they do not cover even a fraction of the losses.
Death and Disability
Ex-gratia payment to families of deceased persons is a mere Rs. 4 Lakhs and for loss of a limb or eye is between Rs.59,100 to Rs. 2 lakhs depending on the extent of disability. The gratuitous relief for families whose livelihood is seriously affected is Rs.60 per adult and Rs.45 per child not housed in relief camps. It is expected that these amounts will be brought at par with the compensation for deaths and disabilities due to wildlife attacks is Rs.10 lakhs and upto Rs.5 Lakhs respectively.
At present assistance is given to farmers only upto 2 ha of land even if the damage is more than that. Where the crop loss is up to 33% the norms provide for an input subsidy for crops, horticulture crops and annual plantation crops which is Rs.6800 per ha in rainfed areas and restricted to sown areas and Rs. 13,500 per ha in assured irrigated areas. The subsidy for perennial crops n Rs.18000 per ha.
As in 2019, this year too vast areas of agricultural land in Chandrapur district have been inundated destroying the paddy and cotton crops. The compensation for agricultural losses as per the provisions of the National Disaster Relief Fund is minimal. The assistance (not compensation) is restricted to between Rs.6800 per hectare to Rs.18000 per hectare upto 2 hectares of land. A further assistance of upto Rs.12000 is given for removal for silt from the fields. These amounts are extremely meagre especially for the rural people who are already reeling under poverty.
Haridas Gohane of village, Gram Panchayat member and ex-Sarpanch of village Chitegaon, taluka Mul said, “I have lost saplings on 11 acres of paddy lands. The seeds were worth Rs.15000 and if we take in the labour and land preparation costs then the loss is around Rs. 500000. How can the government compensate me for only five acres? And that too at such a low rate? The government should compensate the actual loss of the farmer.”
According to other farmers too their paddy saplings worth thousands have been washed away and that too for second or third times. The amount of Rs. 6800 per hectare in rainfed areas does not even cover a fraction of the losses.
At present the assistance as per NDRF norms for fully damaged/destroyed houses is Rs.95,100/-. For partially damaged pukka house where the damage is at least 15% the assistance is Rs.5,200 /- per house and Rs. Rs.3,200 for kutcha houses. The assistance for damaged /destroyed huts is a mere Rs.4,100 per hut. Similarly the assistance for cattle shed is a meagre sum of Rs.2100/- per shed.
These amounts are shamefully low and need to be increased. Today no house can be constructed for such low amounts. In fact, even the amounts paid under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana are upwards of Rs.1.2 lakhs. It is inexplicable why the Central Government continues with norms as low as Rs.4100 for huts – this is insulting the dignity of poor citizens.
Blatant Regional Discrimination
Because the Central Government norms have not been revised since 2015, the state government exercises its discretion in increasing the amounts of assistance or changing the norms. For instance the norms were changed during the floods in 2019 , the Nisarg cyclone in 2020 and the floods in Vidarbha in 2020.The decisions for changing the norms and amounts were taken in cabinet meetings after which G.Rs were issued. Given that there were no set guidelines, there have been multiple G.Rs issued each time a disaster strikes in Maharashtra. In each G.R it is clearly written that the norms will be applied for the that particular calamity only. This has led to different regions getting different treatment at the hands of the state government even though the people are in a similar predicament.
For instance in 2020 there was blatant discrimination against Vidarbha with regard to disaster assistance. There was difference in the assistance extended to the people affected by Cyclone Nisarg in Konkan region and those affected by floods in Vidarbha although both calamities occurred within two months of each other. The assistance for clothes / utensils etc. was a Rs.10,000 in Konkan and Rs.5,000 in Vidarbha. The amount for fully damaged houses was Rs.1,50,000 in Konkan and Rs.95,100 in Vidarbha. The amount for partially damaged houses was Rs.50,000 in Konkan and Rs.6,000 in Vidarbha. Loss of boats and fishing nets was fully compensated in Konkan while not a penny was paid in Vidarbha.
This year the monsoon has severely impacted the entire state of Maharashtra. It is time for the Central Government to wake up and update the disaster assistance norms and in the meanwhile, the state government should stop playing regional favourites even as people suffer.
– Paromita Goswami