Assam has received no central aid for flood management since 2014 apart from its share in the State Disaster Response Fund.
“Practically, the government of Assam has not received any assistance from the government of India during the period 2014-’18,” the state’s revenue and disaster management department said in response to a Right to Information query from Scroll.in.
A senior state official blamed the Centre’s refusal to disburse additional funds despite repeated requests on an “accounting error”.
Assam is hit by floods almost every year as the monsoon brings heavy rain and the Brahmaputra river overflows. In 2017, floods killed 151 people by one estimate and displaced thousands. In 2018, they killed 49, according to government figures. A central team sent to assess the damage in 2017 noted “profound and large-scale” destruction caused by the floods.
According to the Disaster Management Act of 2005, the State Disaster Response Fund is created with contributions from both the respective state and the Centre, with the latter generally providing 75%. But for special category states such as Assam, the central share stands at 90%. These are the primary funds available to states to deal with natural disasters. Assam got Rs 288.6 crore in 2014-’15, Rs 414 crore in 2015-’16, Rs 434.70 crore in 2016-’17 and Rs 456 crore in 2017-’18 from the Centre, according to the RTI response.
In case the State Disaster Response Fund falls short, the state is entitled to submit a memorandum to the Union home ministry detailing its losses and seeking additional assistance. While the memorandum does not specify the source of the additional aid, the Centre usually disburses money from the National Disaster Response Fund. The home ministry’s data shows that Assam has not received any assistance under the National Disaster Response Fund since 2014, despite having suffered substantial human and material losses in floods that year and every year thereafter.
In 2014, when floods affected over 40 lakh people and killed almost 70 in the state, Assam submitted a memorandum seeking Rs 9,370 crore. The next year, which also saw widespread damage from floods, the state requested an additional assistance of Rs 2,100 crore. In 2016, it again sought Rs 5,038 crore to deal with the damage caused by the natural calamity. In 2017, when Assam suffered arguably the worst flooding in recent times, the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party government did not seek additional assistance even though it pegged the losses at around Rs 4,000 crore. Visiting the state in wake of the floods, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a relief package of Rs 2,350 crore for all flood-affected states in the North East, promising to release Rs 250 crore for Assam immediately. The money never came.
The reason apparently is an accounting error by the accountant general’s office. “The Centre allots additional funds when the State Disaster Response Funds money is low, but an accounting error by the AG’s office has resulted in our books reflecting an amount that we actually don’t have,” the senior state official explained. “Since the home ministry takes the account balance figure from the AG’s office, we have been told we are not eligible.”
The official said the error is now being rectified: “About 90% of the error has been corrected, so we should be eligible for central assistance by next year.”
Shortage of funds
The official said Assam’s efforts to rehabilitate those affected by floods in the last few years and its preparedness to tackle the natural calamity in the future is suffering because of the shortage of funds. “When there is shortage of money, few things will be taken up, few things will be left out,” he said. “Had the money been provided, we could have taken up more reconstruction work.”
Another official involved in flood mitigation agreed. “Whatever we do, we have to manage with the SDRF money,” said the official. “That’s why we are always lagging behind when it comes to repair and construction work.”
The lack of funds, the officials said, hampers the reconstruction of embankments, roads and other essential infrastructure. Responses to Right to Information queries filed by Scroll.in indicate that several embankments – the primary engineering intervention against floods in Assam – destroyed in previous floods are yet to be completely repaired.
A 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General report had noted a 60% shortfall in the central funds meant to be released for the implementation of 141 projects under Assam’s flood management programme between 2007-’08 and 2015-’16.