The Union government informed the Supreme Court on Monday that the Election Commission had allowed it to release funds to address the drought in Karnataka and that action will be taken “expeditiously”, The New Indian Express reported.

Attorney General R Venkataramani told the bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta that there was no need for any argument in the matter before the court as the Election Commission has allowed the Union government to deal with it.

“I think it’ll be done expeditiously,” he said. “My Lords may keep it [next hearing] anytime next Monday or so...something will happen before [then].”

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Karnataka government, did not object to the attorney general’s assurance.

On March 23, the Karnataka government filed a plea in the Supreme Court alleging that the Centre had not extended financial assistance to the state for drought management.

The state government’s plea contended that 223 out of the 236 taluks, or subdivisions of a district, have been hit by drought. Of this, 196 taluks have been categorised as severely affected and the remaining 27 are moderately hit.

The total estimated loss due to crop damage in the state is Rs 35,162.05 crore.

The Congress government in Karnataka had sought Rs 18,171.44 crore from the Centre’s National Disaster Response Force. While Rs 4,663.12 crore was sought for crop loss input subsidy, the government asked for Rs 12,577.9 crore towards gratuitous relief to families whose livelihood has been seriously affected due to drought.

The state also sought Rs 566.78 crore for drinking water and Rs 363.68 crore for cattle care.

The Karnataka government had earlier told the court that it had exhausted all its funds allocated under the State Disaster Response Force for 2023-’24, which was Rs 929.50 crore. It said it had to withdraw funds from the state exchequer due to delays in receiving funds from the Centre.

On April 6, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman admitted that there was a delay from the Centre in releasing drought relief for Karnataka and her ministry has sought permission from the Election Commission to clear proposals for disaster relief.

The Centre had to seek the poll panel’s permission as the Model Code of Conduct has been in effect since March 16, when the schedule of the Lok Sabha election was announced.

Karnataka-Centre tussle

The state has been at loggerheads with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government over the devolution of tax funds, the non-receipt of pending funds to implement drought relief measures and the Centre denying permission for irrigation and potable water-related projects in the state, among other matters.

On February 5, during the Budget session of Parliament, Congress’ Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had cited Karnataka’s example while questioning the Union government’s stance on southern India states ruled by Opposition parties being allegedly deprived of their dues by the Centre.

In response, Sitharaman had said that political interests do not come in the way of the states receiving funds from the Centre. “This apprehension that some states are being discriminated against is a politically-vitiated narrative,” she said.

Sitharaman also suggested that the Congress government in Karnataka was incurring expenses that its own Budget could not sustain.

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