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Heatwave as notified disaster

  • Context (IE): The ongoing spell of extreme heat across the country has once again reopened discussions on the inclusion of heatwaves as one of the notified disasters under the Disaster Management Act.
  • Heatwaves, though not a new phenomenon in India, are not viewed as a disaster under the Disaster Management Act 2005. It was because heatwaves are a common occurrence during summer and not really an unusual weather event.

What are notified disasters?

  • Disaster Management Act defines disaster as a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence” arising from “natural or man-made causes” that results in substantial loss of life, destruction of property, or damage to the environment.
  • It must also be of such nature which is “beyond the coping capacity” of the community. If such an event happens, then the provisions of the DM Act can be invoked.
  • The provisions allow states to draw money from funds that have been set up under the law — the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) at the national level and the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) at the state level.
  • The states first utilise the funds available in the SDRF, and only if the magnitude of the disaster is unmanageable with the SDRF does the state seek money from the NDRF.

Why heatwaves were not included as notified disasters?

Finance Commission Reluctance

  • States have put the demand of including heatwaves as a notified disaster before the last three Finance Commissions. However, the Finance Commissions have not entirely been convinced.
  • As per the 15th Finance Commission, the existing list of notified disasters “covers the needs of the states to a large extent” and did not find merit in the request to include heatwaves.
  • It, however, endorsed an enabling provision created by the preceding Commission that allowed states to utilise a part of the SDRF money, i.e., up to 10%, for “local disasters” such as lightning or heatwaves, which states could notify on their own.
  • Using this new enabling provision, at least four states, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Kerala, have added heatwaves as local disasters.

Practical Difficulties

  • The government has to provide monetary compensation, i.e., Rs 4 lakh, for every life lost because of a disaster that is in the notified list. Grievous injuries also have to be compensated. This would place an extra burden on the state exchequer.
  • Problem in attributing deaths to heatwaves. In most cases, heat itself does not claim lives but aggravates the pre-existing conditions, leading to difficulty in ascertaining if heat was the real cause behind death.

Learn in detail about Heatwaves.

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