Why in news?
Recently the Ministry of Home Affairs has invoked Disaster Management Act, 2005 and ordered free interstate movement of oxygen cylinders. Since the time when lockdown was imposed nationwide to combat COVID 19, the Union Home Ministry has issued on average 1.3 orders per day under Disaster Management Act.
What is the relevance of the Disaster Management Act in COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 is the first pan India biological disaster being handled by the legal and constitutional institutions of the country. The current lockdown has been imposed under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DM Act). Under the Act, the States and district authorities can frame their own rules on the basis of broad guidelines issued by the Ministry.
Though the Constitution of India is silent on the subject ‘disaster’, the legal basis of the DM Act, is Entry 23, Concurrent List of the Constitution “Social security and social insurance”. Entry 29, Concurrent List “Prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants,”.
Central government has included the Covid-19 outbreak as a “Notified Disaster” as a “critical medical condition or pandemic situation”.
About Disaster Management Act, 2015
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 is an act passed by Indian Parliament for the efficient management of disasters and other matters connected to it. The act contains 11 chapters and 79 sections and got assent from the President of India on 23rd December, 2005. However, the act came into force in January 2006. Section 2 of the Disaster Management Act provides for the definition of disaster and it says that a disaster means a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes.”
Features of the Disaster Management Act, 2005
The Act designates the Ministry of Home Affairs as the nodal ministry for steering the overall national disaster management. It puts into place a systematic structure of institutions at the national, state and district levels. Four important entities have been placed at the national level:
- The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA): It is tasked with laying down disaster management policies and ensuring timely and effective response mechanisms. NDMA is headed by the Prime MInister of India as the chairperson and will have no more than 9 members including a Vice-Chairperson. All members will have a tenure of 5 years.
- The National Executive Committee (NEC): It is comprised of secretary level officers of the Government of India in the home, health, power, finance and agricultural ministries assigned to assist the NDMA.
- The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM): It is an institute for training and capacity development programs for managing natural calamities.
- National Disaster Response Force (NDRF): It refers to trained professional units that are called upon for specialized response to disasters. The NDRF is led by a Director-General appointed by the Central Government.
The act also provides for state and district level authorities responsible for drawing plans for implementation of national plans and preparing local plans.
State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA)
The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) is responsible for drawing the disaster plan for its respective state. It consists of the Chief Minister who is the chairperson and 8 members appointed by the Chief Minister.
The SDMA is mandated under section 28 to ensure that all the departments of the State prepare disaster management plans as prescribed by the National and State Authorities.
District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA)
The Chairperson of District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) will be the Collector or District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner of the district.
It contains the provisions for financial mechanisms such as the creation of funds for emergency response at the central, state and district levels. At the national level National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) is created for meeting the expenses for relief, emergency provisions and rehabilitation. It supplements the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) in case of a disaster of severe nature, provided adequate funds are not available in the SDRF. SDRF is the primary fund available with the State governments for responses to notified disasters to meet expenditure for providing immediate relief. The Centre contributes 75% of the SDRF allocation for general category States and Union Territories, and 90% for special category States/UTs (northeast States, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir). Declaring COVID 19 a notified disaster under this act is done for providing assistance under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).
NDRF is placed in the “Public Account” of Government of India under “reserve funds not bearing interest“.
Financing: Financed through the levy of a cess on certain items, chargeable to excise and customs duty, and approved annually through the Finance Bill.
- Currently, a National Calamity Contingent Duty (NCCD) is levied to finance the NDRF and additional budgetary support is provided as and when necessary.
- NCCD is levied in the case of goods specified in the Seventh Schedule (goods manufactured or produced).
Civil and Criminal Liabilities
Under Section 51 of the Act, anyone refusing to comply with orders is liable for punishment with imprisonment up to one year, or fine, or both. In case this refusal leads to death of people, the person liable shall be punished with imprisonment up to two years.
Criticism of this act
- Absence of Disaster-prone zones: One of its drawbacks is the absence of a provision for the declaration of ‘disaster-prone zones’. The states can play a more active role when such provisions are made as this classification can help in mitigating the damages that will be caused.
- Neglects Progressive Behavior of Disasters: According to DMA, 2005, occurrence of disasters is sudden, and it completely fails to take into account the fact that disasters are progressive in nature. For example, Tuberculosis is known to kill thousands of people in the country each year but since its occurrence is not sudden or at once, it has not found a place in the Act.
- Overlapping functions of different bodies: Various national level bodies are established under this act whose functions seem to be similar and making coordination between them is cumbersome. the local authorities barely find a mention in this act. Although the local authorities have a key role to play as first responders in the wake of any disasters, no substantive provisions are created to guide them.