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Bombay HC irked by govt’s defiance of its orders on disaster management

The Bombay High Court on Friday criticised the Maharashtra government for defying its orders and provisions of the Disaster Management Act by not setting up separate disaster management authorities in Mumbai and Mumbai Suburban districts.

The court had previously ordered the government to set up separate disaster management authorities in Mumbai and Mumbai Suburban districts, as mandated by the act, by January 31. However, the government set up a common authority.

Justices A S Oka and Riyaz Chagla were annoyed by this.

“Why this anxiety and insistence to go contrary to the law and our orders? If the state government is inconvenienced with our orders or the Act, then challenge it,” Justice Oka said.

The government has committed a wilful breach of the court’s orders, the division bench said.

When the matter came up for hearing on Friday morning, the bench issued a contempt of court notice to Medha Gadgil, additional chief secretary, Maharashtra, over the matter.

However, during the afternoon session, government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani submitted a letter from Gadgil assuring the court that separate authorities will be set up within 15 days.

“We are accepting Gadgil’s letter and recalling our order issuing the contempt notice,” Justice Oka said.

The bench said if the authorities are not constituted by May 4, it would considered it an “aggravated” contempt.

The high court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Sanjay Lakhe Patil of the NGO Marathwada Anushesh Nirmulan Aani Vikas Manch, raising the issue of water scarcity faced by farmers in parts of Maharashtra every year.

The petition sought a direction to the government to implement the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and also sought to know the measures taken by the government for drought mitigation.

The Act, a Central legislation, provides a mechanism for effective management of disasters, both natural and man-made.

“The Act is crystal clear. It is the state government’s obligation to establish a Disaster Management Authority for each and every district,” the court said.

The state government’s stand that one authority was enough for Mumbai and Mumbai Suburban districts is disastrous, Justice Oka said.

The bench posted the matter for next hearing on May 4.

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