Over the last few weeks, a number of states in North India like Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh have been ravaged by heavy rainfalls and flooding. As of today, over 100 people have lost their lives and damage to property is estimated at approximately Rs 200 crores. Water released from the Hathni Kund barrage in Yamuna Nagar has also deluged large parts of Delhi, including crematoriums, shelter homes and even the Chief Minister’s office. The Yamuna river has risen to 208.62 mts which is well above the danger level, breaking a record of 40 years. The Delhi Disaster Management Authority has issued directions to shut all schools and colleges for the next three days and to all offices to function in work from home mode, wherever possible.
Natural disasters of this scale result in irreparable loss to life and property and gravely impede the normal course of life. In such circumstances, the government is legally empowered to execute certain emergency provisions and impose specific rules. The law also gives those affected by natural disasters the right to relief from the government.
In this Weekly, we discuss what are these special laws that come into force in situations of calamities and the support available to the aggrieved.
What are the special powers does the government have during natural disasters?
While disaster management is a Concurrent List subject, which means that both the Centre and the State governments can make relevant laws for it, flood management falls under the purview of the State governments. State governments have the power to frame specific laws and rules to manage floods. Under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the District Magistrate or any other competent authority can also issue an order to either abstain from doing or to do a particular act if there is apprehension for damage to life, health or safety. In this context, they can issue orders to shut schools or public gatherings for a certain period of time or impose a curfew in specific regions, among other directions.
What is the duty of the government towards those affected by natural disasters?
The Constitution of India guarantees every citizen the Right to Life under Article 21. Several judgements of the Supreme Court have interpreted the right to rescue, relief and rehabilitation as an inherent component of Article 21(4). Further, the rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution require that every citizen is granted equal opportunity to receive relief, rescue, and rehabilitation. These efforts have to be extended to everyone without any discrimination based on gender, caste, creed, race, sex etc. In the B.J Diwan v. State of Gujarat (2001) case, the Gujarat High Court reasserted that the right to rescue and rehabilitation is enshrined under Article 21, and it is the duty of the state to ensure it is duly enforced.
India is also a party to the Yokohama Strategy of the United Nations International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction, which places the onus to preserve and protect human lives on the government.
Therefore, any victim of any calamity is entitled to be protected by the State and be provided with emergency reliefs such as access to shelter and housing, food, security, health services etc. as well as compensation.
The National Disaster Management Act, 2005 lays down the responsibilities of the state with regards to the mitigation and prevention of disasters and the minimum standards of relief and rehabilitation that must be provided to the citizens. The Act also constituted the National Disaster Response Force, which is the central task force for emergency responses to any natural disasters. There are also state and district level task forces.
What are the legal rights of those affected by natural disasters?
As a country highly prone to floods, India follows comprehensive flood management Guidelines formulated by the National Disaster Management Authority in 2008 to build preparedness and mitigate the risks of floods. Under Chapter 8 of these Guidelines, the State must ensure that affected citizens are guaranteed access to the following :
- Safe shelter and relief camps
- Emergency relief supplies
- Timely and accurate information about the situation.
- Prompt and efficient emergency medical response
- Support in identification and recording the details of any deceased and subsequent arrangements for mortuary facilities
- Access to medical and psychological support services in the aftermath of the flooding
- Monetary compensation and financial support for subsequent rehabilitation as per the State laws and rules
Where can the affected citizens seek support from?
The National Disaster Response Force (“NDRF”) is tasked with building capacities of local non-governmental organisations, state and district level task forces to adequately respond to the relief, rescue and rehabilitation needs of victims of floods and other natural disasters.
Flood victims can follow the National Disaster Management Authority’s guidelines to stay safe during flooding and reach out to the alert portal for emergency support or the NDRF helpline number at 91-9711077372.
Stay alert and stay safe!