Navigating Disaster Relief Funds in India: Tamil Nadu's Struggle

Image depicting the challenges faced by Tamil Nadu in accessing disaster relief funds from the central government
Navigating Disaster Relief Funds in India: Tamil Nadu's Struggle

In December 2023, Tamil Nadu was ravaged by Cyclone Michaung, leading to widespread devastation and subsequent floods. The state government has taken legal action by filing a lawsuit at the Supreme Court, alleging that the central government is withholding crucial national disaster relief funds necessary for assisting the affected regions.

Tamil Nadu is seeking financial assistance totaling Rs 37,902 crores to address the damages caused by the cyclone, along with an additional Rs 2,000 crore as an interim measure for immediate relief operations.

Disaster Relief Funds in India

In India, disaster relief funds are sourced from two main avenues: the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) and the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF). These funds were established under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, following the catastrophic tsunami of December 2004.

The NDRF is designated to cover severe calamities like cyclones, droughts, and floods, necessitating additional financial support beyond what is available in the SDRF. Notably, the SDRF is funded jointly by the central and state governments, following a ratio of 75:25 for general category states and 90:10 for special category states (including North-Eastern states, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh).

Process for Releasing NDRF Funds

As outlined in the January 2022 Operational Guidelines for Constitution and Administration of the NDRF, a total of Rs 54,770 crores has been earmarked for the fund from the fiscal year 2021-22 until 2025-26.

When a state confronts a severe calamity and finds its SDRF insufficient, it can request additional assistance from the NDRF. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) or the Ministry of Agriculture evaluates the situation to determine the necessity for supplementary funds.

The process entails:

  • Formation of an Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) by the MHA to assess the affected areas and ascertain the need for additional funds.
  • Submission of IMCT's recommendations to a sub-committee of the National Executive Committee.
  • Approval for the release of NDRF funds by a high-level committee chaired by the Home Minister, including the Ministers for Agriculture and Finance, and the NITI Aayog vice-chairman.

Tamil Nadu’s Claim and Similar Pleas from Other States

Tamil Nadu alleges that despite fulfilling all procedural requirements, including the submission of recommendations by the IMCT and the sub-committee of the National Executive Committee, the MHA has failed to convene a meeting and release the funds. The state asserts that the central government's inaction infringes upon citizens’ rights to equality and life with dignity, as enshrined in Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

Tamil Nadu’s legal action follows a similar petition filed by Karnataka on March 23, which sought the release of Rs 18,171 crores in NDRF funds for drought relief. Karnataka contends that a significant portion of its taluks have been severely affected by drought in 2023.

Furthermore, opposition-ruled states such as Kerala, Telangana, and Punjab have also approached the Supreme Court, alleging that their Governors have either withheld assent to bills passed by the state legislatures or curtailed the states’ borrowing power amidst financial crises.

Through these instances, it becomes evident that the allocation of disaster relief funds in India faces significant challenges, often entangled in bureaucratic procedures and political dynamics, leading to delays in addressing the urgent needs of affected regions.

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