The Supreme Court today directed the central government to create a disaster mitigation fund and set up a special force under the Disaster Management Act to effectively tackle drought in several parts of the country.
The apex court also directed union agriculture secretary to convene an urgent meeting, within a week, of chief secretaries of drought-hit states like Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana to review and take measures to tackle the crisis.
A bench headed by Justice M B Lokur directed the centre to take effective measures to tackle stress and migration factors arising from drought in several states and to stop farmer suicides.
The Supreme Court also asked the central government to take measures to mitigate drought on a war footing and fix a time limit for declaration of drought on scientific grounds.
It also asked the centre to revise the drought management manual to provide effective relief to calamity-hit farmers and prepare a national plan to tackle the crisis.
"Agriculture Ministry is directed to hold a meeting within a week with Chief Secretaries of drought-hit Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana to assess the situation," the bench also comprising Justice N V Ramana said.
The court also directed that the National Disaster Response Force should be trained and equipped to tackle the drought-like situation.
Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha had on 26 April told the bench that the centre is alive to the situation prevailing in the drought-hit areas and states are working hard to provide every possible relief to the farmers in such natural calamity hit areas.
Earlier, the apex court questioned the centre whether it was not its responsibility to warn the states about the drought-like situation likely to prevail in the near future.
The court had expressed concern over low compensation paid to calamity-hit farmers which, it pointed out, was leading some of them to commit suicide.
The petitioner NGO, Swaraj Abhiyan, in its revised prayer, had sought a direction to Centre to abide by the provisions of MNREGA Act and use it for employment generation in drought-affected areas.
The PIL filed by the NGO had alleged that parts of 12 states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chattisgarh were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief.
The situation has put severe stress on the agricultural sector, which employs close to 70 per cent of India's labour force, drying up traditional sources of drinking water, and pushing up food inflation.