Defining a National Disaster

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August 20, 2018

What is the issue?

  • Unprecedented rains in Kerala and associated devastation has led to calls for declaring the floods a national calamity.
  • It is imperative at this juncture to look into how calamities are actually classified as a national disaster.

What is a "disaster" legally?

  • A “disaster” is defined as per the specifications in Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  • Accordingly, a “disaster” means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area.
  • This could arise from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence.
  • It should result in
  1. substantial loss of life or human suffering (or)
  2. damage to, and destruction of, property (or)
  3. damage to, or degradation of, environment
  • It should either be of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.
  • By this, a natural disaster may include an earthquake, flood, landslide, cyclone, tsunami, urban flood, heatwave, etc.
  • It may also include a man-made disaster of nuclear, biological and chemical nature.

What is a national disaster?

  • The central government has examined proposals in the past to define a national disaster.
  • However, there is no provision, executive or legal, to declare a natural calamity as a national calamity.
  • Hence there is no fixed criterion to define any calamity as a national calamity.
  • In this regard, the 10th Finance Commission (1995-2000) examined a proposal.
  • The proposal was to term a disaster “a national calamity of rarest severity” if it affects one-third of the state's population.
  • The panel did not define a “calamity of rare severity”.
  • But it stated that a calamity of rare severity would necessarily have to be adjudged on a case-to-case basis.
  • It would have to take into account:
  1. the intensity and magnitude of the calamity
  2. the level of assistance needed
  3. the capacity of the state to tackle the problem
  4. the alternatives and flexibility available within the plans to provide relief, etc
  • Accordingly, 2013 Uttarakhand flood and 2014 Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh were classified as calamities of “severe nature”.

What are the benefits of such a declaration?

  • On declaration as a calamity of “rare severity”/”severe nature”, support to the state government is provided at the national level.
  • The Centre also considers additional assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund.
  • A Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) is set up, with the corpus shared 3:1 between Centre and state.
  • When CRF resources are inadequate, additional assistance is considered from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF).
  • NCCF is funded 100% by the Centre.
  • Relief in repayment of loans or grant of fresh loans to the affected persons on concessional terms are also considered.

How is the funding decided?

  • It works as per the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009.
  • The National Crisis Management Committee deals with major crises that have serious or national ramifications.
  • It is headed by the Cabinet Secretary.
  • The inter-ministerial central teams are deputed to the affected states.
  • They make assessment of damage and relief assistance required.
  • An inter-ministerial group, headed by the Union Home Secretary, studies the assessment.
  • It then recommends the quantum of assistance from the NDRF/NCCF.
  • Based on this, a high-level committee approves the central assistance.
  • It comprises of Finance Minister as chairman, and Home Minister, Agriculture Minister, and others as members.


Source: Indian Express

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