As rescue operations race against time to evacuate pilgrims stranded at various places in flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand, a fresh question shoots up – are we really well-equipped to tackle natural disasters?
At least, the latest incidents, in the hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal caused by nature’s fury don’t advocate such. Irrespective of political regime in state or centre, preparedness against natural disasters finds the lowest mention in the election manifesto of a political party or states’ policy.
It’s not that we as a nation are not for an agency whose exclusive drive should be to carry out rescue operations when the nature is at its very worst. We have the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), but what’s its role when Army, Air force, ITBP and other paramilitary forces take on a major role during each national calamity.
Indisputably, defense forces are mandated to play a chief role during such testing times but then — what’s the role of NDRF?
It’s not for the first time that we have monitored nature’s wrath to such an extent and rescue works from the NDRF side remained toned down and uncoordinated , atleast for the first few days.
It was in 2009, in Delhi, that the NDRF was brought into existence (at least on paper) as a response team to take on natural and man-made disasters in the country.
Since then, crores of rupees have been invested on its functioning but it fails to deliver to tax payer’s satisfaction when needed the most.
Its working policies are laid out by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMA) were formed on the analogous lines in the various states across the country.
According to a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) that was released on 23rd April, 2013, the SDMA (for Uttarakhand) that was established in October 2007 with much fanfare and ado hasn’t held a meeting even once since its establishment.
Adding to this, the CAG report says that communication and early warning systems were lacking with the hill state. The authority that is chaired by the Chief Secretary of the state of Uttarakhand has no tangible plans to deal with such calamities as eventually proved in the case of latest massive earthquakes, cloudbursts and flash floods.
What’s more concerning is that the authority even lacks adequate man power. At the district level 44% posts (in the district emergency operation department) were lying vacant.
Moreover, the co-ordination link between central and state authorities is missing completely and this has further hindered relief works.
It was only now after the visit of Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde that NDMA member VK Duggal was appointed as nodal officer to co-ordinate the relief and rescue operations. He will act as a link between central and state authorities and stationed in Dehradun, the state capital.
However, what stopped the Centre from appointing an official in the role of nodal officer till now? Additionally, are such nodal officers appointed in other states too?
Had Duggal been appointed way back, the co-ordination between the Centre and the state could have been much enhanced and saved many lives too.
It’s markedly exposed at this instant that the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) clearly lacks adequate funds, choppers, satellite phones due to the lackluster attitude of succeeding state governments and red-tapism.
Although, the blame game has just begun in the state’s political arena and some of the opposition leaders are even questioning the way Army is planning out rescue operations, obviously sitting in their air-conditioned offices.
Nevertheless, the common man has once again paid the price of worshipping God and voting for the politicians – ‘religiously’.