The end of Cyclone Fani is the right occasion when the response of different States to natural calamities ought to be compared. Our federal structure is such that problems can be solved very effectively if State and Central machinery work as a team. In times of disaster, scoring political brownie points is avoidable and the final losers are the people themselves. If political leaders make statements hostile to one another, it results in dissonance with the populace and results in rebellious tendencies that are dangerous for peace in the nation-state.
The more fundamental question that comes to mind is what should take precedence in times of natural calamities: Governance or politics? While it is obvious that parties have to play politics to win elections, at the time of the calamity and during the aftermath when relief measures must be stepped up, the interests of the citizens should be given priority over scoring brownie points.
The federal structure has been designed to perform as a team and all political parties have to respect the mandate of the people who have voted the other government into power.
Kerala: Complaints made as much news as flood
Kerala was devastated by floods in July-August 2018. The destruction left over 483 people dead and several more missing. Over a million people were evacuated and 14 districts were on high alert. According to the Kerala government, one-sixth of the total population of Kerala had been directly affected by the floods and related incidents The Indian government had declared it a Level 3 Calamity, or “calamity of a severe nature”. It is the worst flood in Kerala after the great flood of 99 that took place in 1924.
Thirty-five out of 54 dams were opened for the first time in the history of the State.
The rainfall was really heavy — 75% more than the regular rainfall in Kerala — and that definitely was one of the causes for the flooding.
The fact that almost all dams were opened at the same time led to the accumulation of water, which resulted in flooding.
Amicus curiae Jacob P Alex appointed by the Kerala High Court to look into the cause of the disaster observed that the calamity was the result of bad dam management by the State government.
At the same time, there was a huge controversy over the Kerala government claiming that the UAE had offered Rs 700 crore in aid, which the Centre allegedly declined. But the Centre first announced an interim aid of Rs 500 crore followed by Rs 3,000 crore as the relief activities started.
The government of Pinarayi Vijayan further claimed that the Centre did not allow the State ministers to go abroad to get aid for relief activities.
This definitely does not mean that relief activities were not happening. It only demonstrates that the calamity was used to score political points.
The State government and its statements made in hostility towards the Centre (before the second installment of aid was announced) set a very disturbing precedent.
This continued on social media where people started blaming the Centre for the crisis and that there was discrimination against Kerala just because the State had never elected a BJP government.
Odisha: Cyclone Fani met with governance rather than allegations
This immediately brings to mind the current situation in Odisha, which has never elected a BJP government either.
The calamity here (Cyclone Fani) is of a different nature and hence it might be unfair to equate the two. But the cyclone was classified as “extremely severe” and touted to be one of the worst in the last few decades.
However, the situation in Odisha has been handled so smoothly that even the UN made a reference to the excellent management of Cyclone Fani.
The damage could have been much worse had it not been for Odisha authorities who managed to evacuate a record 1.2 million or 12 lakh people in 24 hours to avert large-scale devastation. The Centre and State governments coordinated very well to ensure minimum loss to human life. In preparation for the storm’s impact, the Odisha government had moved the people to higher ground and into cyclone shelters built a few miles inland.
The States affected were Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Bengal while Uttar Pradesh experienced some thunderstorms. The Union government announced an interim aid of Rs 1,000 crore to the States affected.
The difference in approach was evident. The Odisha government worked in tandem with the Centre and the coordination resulted in minimising losses. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was magnanimous in crediting the chief minister for excellent disaster management.
Compare it to another State where the BJP has never been elected to power. The Bengal chief minister actually went on to decline a meeting with the prime minister and called him a PM with an expiry date.
Today all the criticism of not respecting the Federal principles is about the so-called high handedness of the Central government. But the state governments are equally responsible and obliged to respect the powers and role of the Central government in governing the relief measures especially during natural calamities. Federalism cannot be a one-way street.