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The Long Haul

Why is it that it is only when disasters occur that we wake up to the need for a disaster management plan? Not that disaster management is a totally forgotten issue, but it is only after disasters that attention turns to the problems which they give rise to, namely, of rescue, relief and rehabilitation. Even then the focus of attention is the additional expenditure involved and how such expenditure is to be financed by the state governments whose constitutional obligation it is to deal with natural calamities. It is significant that practically all the finance commissions, except the very first one, were asked in their terms of reference to review issues in coping with natural calamities insofar as the states concerned have to incur additional expenditure and that too within a relatively short span of time. The Sixth Finance Commission, for instance, was specifically asked to review the policy and arrangements in regard to the financing of relief expenditure by the states. The commission, while recommending the continuation of existing arrangements under which in the assessment of the revenue needs of every state a margin was provided “for meeting the expenditure…on natural calamities”, had called for “systematic development of the drought- and flood-prone areas through a Plan programme”.

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