Legal Services Clinic Blog, Uncategorized

Accessing Legal Aid during Natural Disasters

Shivi Vijayvergiya:

Disaster risks in India are compounded by increasing vulnerabilities relating to geo-climatic, socio-economic conditions, unplanned urbanization, development within high-risk zones, environmental degradation, geological hazards, epidemics and pandemics. Clearly, all these contribute to a situation where disasters seriously threaten India’s economy, its population and sustainable development.

If we refer the data, in India more than 58.6 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes; over 40 million hectares (12%) of its land is prone to floods and river erosion; close to 5,700 kms, out of the 7,516 kms long coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis; 68% of its cultivable area is vulnerable to droughts; and, its hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches. Moreover, India is also vulnerable to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) emergencies and other man-made disasters.

In India, to combat with such natural and man-made vulnerabilities we have Disaster Managment Act, 2005 in place which expounds on management of disasters. The act in its section 2(d) defines disaster as

“a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”.

The above defintion gives us crucial key points i.e. natural or man made disasters. When we talk about the treatment in law, it can be varied on the disaster’s type. A person who has been affected by the disaster is under the act is entitled to recieve relief, assistance, repair, reconstructions, or other benefits consequent to disaster from any officer of Central government, State government, National Authority, State Authority or District Authority.

The Legal Service Authorities Act, 1987  its section 12(e) makes the victims of disasters who are under circumstances of undeserved want being victim of mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocities, flood, drought, earthquake and industrial disasters, eligible for free legal services to file or defend a case. The Legal service Authorities by virtue the above section play an effective role by coordinating the activities of the State Administration in the disaster mangement by way of strategic interventions in an integrated and sustainable manner, reducing the gravity of crisis and to build a platform for early recovery and development.

The intervention includes ensuring and coordinating immediate help from Government and Non- Government agencies, supervising distribution of relief material, supervising construction of temporary shelters or transporting the victim to safer place, supervising reunion of family, health care and sanitation of victims and preventing spread of epidemics, supervising needs of women and children, ensuring availability of food, medicine, and drinking water, supervising restoration of cattle and chattel, reconstruction of damaged dwelling house, legal awareness programmes in relief camps on the legal right of the victims, assisting in the rehablitation, care, further education of orphaned children, appropirate debt relief measures for victims while many other.

Shivi Vijayvergia (I Year) is a Masters candidate in Public Policy at National Law School of India University, Bangalore and can be contacted at shivivijayvergiya@nls.ac.in.

Image credits: http://abcnews.go.com/International/photos/flooding-pakistan-india-25378562/image-25379370

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