The Madras High Court has been moved in a PIL for a direction to the National Disaster Management Authority and the Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Authority to provide the guided minimum relief for those whose livelihood has been seriously affected during the COVID Lockdown.
The petition by R. Dhanasekaran, the Commerce and Trade Wing Secretary of Desiya Makkal Sakthi Katchi, a registered Political Party, claims to be "for the benefit of millions of lives and livelihoods affected by acts of the Respondents'" in failing to discharge their public obligations under Sec.12. Sec.19, Sec.46(1) and Sec.48(1)(a) of the Disaster Management Act, 2004 and the Guidelines issued under these provisions.
It is submitted that the NDMA, established under Sec.3(1) of DM Act, is the Apex Body with a mandate to lay down Policies, Plans and Guidelines for Disaster Management to ensure timely and effective response to disasters, including framing Guidelines for Minimum Standards of Relief under Sec.12 of the DM Act. And, a National Disaster Response Fund ("NDRF") Constituted under Sec.46(1) is made available to the National Executive Committee of NDMA for being applied towards meeting expenses for emergency response, relief and rehabilitation in accordance with the Guidelines laid down by the Central Government in consultation with NDMA. There are similar provisions in respect of the SDMA.
"The Lockdown has resulted in the complete loss of livelihood for most part of the population excluding persons in government services who have assured pay / salary and possibly some of those in employment in Public Sector and Large companies that 'may' have been able to pay salaries in whole during this lockdown period. However, for the most part, the State imposed lockdown meant loss of livelihood for vast sections of the civil society including self-employed, entrepreneurs, MSMEs, daily wage earners, migrant workers, farmhands, domestic helps and those employed in a host of sectors ordered to be closed during the 54 days lockdown period", it is argued.
The plea, through Advocate Kabilan Manoharan, submits that the Disaster Management Act, 2005 requires that the "National Authority" recommend Guidelines for Minimum Standards of Relief to persons affected by Disaster including
a) Minimum requirements to be provided in relief camps in relation to shelter, food, drinking water, medical cover and sanitation
b) Special provisions to be made for widows and orphans
c) ex gratia assistance on account of loss of life as also assistance on account of damage to houses and for restoration for means of livelihood
d) such other relief as may be necessary
It is pointed out that the National Authority has through Guidelines for Minimum Standards of Relief, issued in February 2016, made the norms provided by Ministry of Home Affairs, for assistance from State Disaster Response Fund to be the Minimum Standards of Relief during Disaster.
"The State Disaster Response Fund is composed of 75% contribution by the Government of India (as grant-in Aid to state Government, Non-plan grants and Grants towards State Disaster Response Fund) and the balance 25% contributed by the General Category State. However, in the case of Special Category States, the contribution of GoI would be 90% and that of the Special
Category State will be 10%. Further the contribution of GoI would be released in June and December and any un-spent balance in the SDRF would be the opening balance for the following year", reads the plea.
It is submitted that the currently applicable List of Items and Norms of Assistance from the SDRF and the NDRF comprised as part of Home Ministry's dated 08-04-2015 provides for amongst other things
- Ex-gratia payment to families of Deceased person being INR 4,00,000/-
- Gratuitous Relief to families whose livelihood is seriously affected being at INR 60/- per day per Adult (Rs.45 per day per child) for a default period of assistance of 30 days that can be extended up to 60 days in the first instance.
"54 days of zero income during the lockdown period is a serious loss of livelihood and "every adult" in a family whose livelihood is seriously affected is entitled to receive INR 3240/- as Minimum relief for loss of livelihood. Likewise, INR 2430/- for every child in the family. And, this minimum relief for loss of livelihood is payable under the Guidelines framed under Sec.12 of Disaster Management Act, 2005, a legitimate entitlement for those affected by Disaster", it is asserted.
It is stated that the Government of India as well as the Government of Tamil Nadu have provided some money doles for relief such as
- 1 instalment of the declared 3 proposed Instalments of INR 500 to women credited to "Jan Dhan" Bank Account Holders by GoI
- INR 1000 to the family of PDS / Ration Card Holders for "Rice", distributed through PDS Shops by GoTN
- INR 1000 to 1 Lakh weavers registered with Co-operatives and other NON-cash doles like
-Rice and other ration through PDS shops by GoTN
- Gas Cylinders to Ujwala Scheme Card Holders by GoI
- Food at Shelters and Government "Amma Canteens" by GoTN
It is sought to be argued that these are grossly inadequate and do not match the minimum relief quantified under the Guidelines framed under Sec.12 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 for the following reasons
(a) They are not universal to each of those seriously affected by loss of livelihood
(b) They are not for each of the Adults and Children in a family that is seriously affected by the loss of livelihood
(c) They can be compartmentalised as measures that are anyway required as relief under other minimum relief categories other than for loss of livelihood
"The Respondents have not made any effort to even ascertain their obligation to make the minimum payment and much less made a start to the payment to the affected", the petitioner has contended.
Moreover, it is alleged that this COVID-19 being a National Disaster across the entire geographical regional spread of India, is a consequence of the Union
Government's mis-handling of the COVID-19 crisis with
a) Failure to take prudent early steps unlike Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong
b) Lack of Extensive Testing till date (only 1935 Tests / million people as on 20-05-2020) unlike South Korea, Spain, Italy
c) Lack of Effective Testing with quality Test Kits Approved by Regulator DCGI, just like USA that began Testing with test Kits that were not approved by US-FDA
d) Lack of Repeat Testing of "Asymptomatic" carriers of SARS Cov2 resulting in a mindless extension of lockdown due to failure to control spread of COVID-19 even when proper steps taken by countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong were without any lockdown of the economy.
"With the mis-handling of the COVID-19 crisis by the Union government and the Guidelines being only for a 'Minimum' relief, any shortage of Funds under the SDRF ought to be made good with funds available under the NDRF or even by de-prioritising or deferring planned budgeted expenditure like those on road projects, new parliament building, etc", it is urged.
The petition presses that the payment for minimum relief for loss of livelihood as payable under the Guidelines framed under Sec.12 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 will result in money in the hands of the people that will drive spending that is necessary to revive the economy and will cost much lesser than the purported INR 20 lakh Crore that the Government proposes to use as a stimulus to revive the economy.
"The COVID-19 Pandemic along with the ill- planned and badly executed lockdown has without doubt affected, compromised and jeopardised the lives and livelihoods of millions of people and thus a direct affront to the right to life guaranteed under the Constitution and the minimum relief for loss of livelihood as payable under the Guidelines framed under Sec.12 of Disaster Management Act, 2005, a legitimate entitlement for those affected by the Disaster is the obligation of the Respondents under law that which they have failed to deliver till date", it is averred.