Centre says Kerala floods 'calamity of severe nature': An explainer

Kerala Chief Minister Pinaryi Vijayan and several other politicians have demanded that the floods in Kerala, triggered by heavy torrential rains, be declared as a 'national disaster'.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Friday: “Dear PM, Please declare #Kerala floods a National Disaster without any delay. The lives, livelihood and future of millions of our people is at stake.” 

On Monday, the Union Home Ministry declared the floods and landslides in Kerala as a "calamity of a severe nature". As of Sunday, close to 370 lives have been lost owing to the heavy rains, landslides and flood-related incidents in the state, according to agency reports.

Here is an explainer on the different types of calamities that come under the Disaster Management Act, how they are categorised and when and how much the Centre extends support to the affected state.

How does the law define 'disaster' in India? 

As per the Disaster Management Act, 2005, “disaster” means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area. The different types of natural disasters are earthquakes, floods, landslides, cyclones, tsunamis, urban floods and heat wave. Man-made disasters are categorised as nuclear, chemical and biological disasters. 

What is the difference between 'calamity of severe nature' and a 'national disaster'? 

As per law, there is no provision or rule that distinctively designates a disaster as a national calamity. In an affidavit, the Centre said it has treated the flood situation in Kerala as a "Disaster of Serious Nature" and has categorised it as 'L3 Level of Disaster' under the National Disaster Management Guidelines. In reply to a question in Parliament during the recent monsoon session, Minister of State (Home) Kiren Rijiju said, “The existing guidelines of State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF)/ National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), do not contemplate declaring a disaster as a ‘National Calamity’.”

Attempts to define the national disaster:

The 10th Finance Commission (1995-2000) had examined a proposal where to declare a disaster as “a national calamity of rarest severity” if it affects one-third of the state, according to an Indian Express report. However, the panel did not define a “calamity of rare severity” but stated that it has to be adjudged on a case-to-case basis. Moreover, the government also accepted the recommendations of the Finance Commission in regard to setting up of a Rs 70 billion National Fund for Calamity Relief (NFCR). 

What happens when a calamity is declared a 'national disaster'? 

According to reports by The Indian Express, when a calamity is declared to be of “rare severity”/”severe nature”, support to the state government is provided at the national level. The Centre also considers additional assistance from the NDRF. A Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) is set up, with the corpus shared 3:1 between Centre and the state. When resources in the CRF are inadequate, additional assistance is considered from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), funded 100% by the Centre. 

How is the calamity funded? 

Traditionally, relief in the wake of natural calamities has been treated as the primary responsibility of the states. The National Crisis Management Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary looks into the "severity" of the calamity. The Central Government associates itself with measures aimed at reforming the sufferings of the people on account of natural calamities.

Headed by the Union Home Secretary, the group studies the assessment and recommends the quantum of assistance from the NDRF/National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). Based on this, a high-level committee comprising the Finance Minister as chairman and the Home Minister, Agriculture Minister, and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman as members approves the central assistance, reported The Indian Express.

The dimensions of the response at the level of the Centre are determined in accordance with the existing policy of financing the relief expenditure and keeping in view the factors like (i) the gravity of a natural calamity, (ii) the scale of the relief operation necessary, and (iii) the requirements of Central assistance for augmenting the financial resources at the disposal of the state government.

How much funds are allocated under NDRF? 

The Indian Express reported that Rijiju said in Parliament in January that the Centre released Rs 34.60 billion in 2014-15, Rs 12.45 billion in 2015-16, and Rs 11.44 billion in 2016-17 under the NDRF to various states. In 2017-18 until December 27, it had disbursed Rs 20.82 billion.