NEW DELHI -- The response to floods in states like Assam and Gujarat has been the "quickest ever possible", the government said on Thursday while making it clear that there was no "bias" in its approach and intent in providing rescue teams and relief funds.
Replying to a call attention motion in the Rajya Sabha on the situation arising out of recent floods in the country, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said strict instructions have been issued to NDRF teams that there should be no delay in providing relief because of "human error".
Paramilitary forces have also been told to be ready to respond to the situation, he said, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a direction that top priority should be given to tackle the disaster, be it manmade or natural.
Rijiju also said that states have enough funds in their kitty to tackle disasters and the Centre only supplements with additional relief amount when it gets exhausted .
"I can assure this House that the government is fully committed to ensure that nobody suffers due to want of the action from the Government of India. We are fully committed. We reassure state governments that we will be there whenever you require us," he said.
"Whether it is Assam or the current problem being faced in Gujarat, the disaster response has been quickest ever possible," he said, adding that relief work was in progress.
As many as 20 states, including Assam, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal, have been affected by heavy rains or floods during the current southwest monsoon season.
As per the information of damages received from states, 600 people have lost their lives, 24,811 cattle heads have perished, 63,215 houses/huts damaged and about 2.8 lakh hectare of crop reportedly affected due to heavy rains, floods and landslides, he said in response to 20 members who participated in the discussion.
Stating that declaring natural calamity as a national disaster was "not enough", the Minister said, "We have to treat the problem in the manner which it deserves."
"The problem in Assam and surrounding states of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur are of severe nature. When it is a disaster of severe nature, the response of the government is also corresponding to the requirement on the ground," he said, adding he was satisfied with the efforts.
"The Government of India cannot be biased in its approach and its intent. It is very clear," he said, adding that the Prime Minister cannot visit every place and even the Minister cannot go and settle the issues on the ground.
On the opposition charges that the Centre was washing its hands off from its responsibility, the Minister said, "The primary responsibility to deal with natural calamities rests with states. This is not the question of relieving responsibility."
The Centre cannot take over the district administration. Naturally, the state has to respond. The Centre supplements the efforts of the state governments by providing financial and logistic support to effectively deal with such exigent situations, he added.
Clearing some members' misgivings that the Centre was not releasing or delaying relief funds, he said "it is not the case. Moreover, it is not the political issue. We cannot afford to just sit back and respond whenever it is required."
Earlier, some opposition members had charged the government with ignoring its responsibilities and mismanagement in dealing with the situation.
He also said that the concerned states are taking necessary relief measures and state authorities are monitoring rainfall, water level of rivers and dams in coordination with IMD and Central Water Commission as well as issuing weather advisories to all vulnerable districts.
On charges of delay in the release of central relief funds, the Minister said, "The provision is very clear and simple and it is streamlined. Every state has been given funds and released in every first week of April of the year. That is in the kitty of the state government. That is the advance money."
The Centre releases the second installment after assessing the nature of the disaster, he said. "It is not easy to assess the total cost of damage at one go. It takes time. There are systems. To say that the systems get very late may not be appropriate," he said.
He also said that the ₹500 crore relief fund announced for Gujarat floods was part of State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) which was due to the state. It has not been given from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF).
The Centre has deployed about 88 specialised NDRF teams in 26 states/UTs with 304 boats another necessary search and rescue equipments . Based on vulnerability profile of different regions, the NDRF teams have been presently stationed/deployed in 12 headquarters.
Highlighting the relief measures undertaken in Assam, Rijiju said the Centre has given adequate funds to state and there was no pending amount.
"For the present situation, a total of 61,299 quintals of rice, 11,574 quintals of dal, 3,708 quintals of salt and 20,308 quintals of oil has been distributed," he said and expressed satisfaction over the way the state government is dealing with the disaster.
Stating that there are bound to misery when any severe natural disaster strikes, he said that one needs to be clear of this fact that the impact of natural disaster is going to be on the ground even in countries like the US and Japan who are supposed to be efficient in dealing with such situations.
"When disaster strikes, there are bound to be miseries and effect on the ground. That is why we have to bear with it and that is why the government is there for."
So, clear instruction been given to Natural Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams not to delay in providing relief because of "human error or any intentional cause should be there which affects any of the victims."
Pointing out that states have not used funds provided under the SDRF fully, the Minister said despite that the centre been supporting them with additional funds.
"Maximum amount been given under NDRF is to Karnataka for drought...There is no zero balance in the account of any state under SDRF. There is money left with every state government," he said adding that additional grant will be given after SDRF is exhausted.
For the 2017-18 fiscal, ₹9,382.80 crore has been allocated as central share to all states in their SDRF accounts. Of which, an amount of ₹3,387.15 crore has so far been released to 21 states.
That apart, additional assistance from NDRF amounting ₹1,555.84 crore has been provided this year to different states affected by calamities of severe nature.
On cloud burst forecast, the Minister said it was difficult to predict though scientists across the world are making efforts and the government is more focusing on mitigating disaster risk.
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