Only Fire No Safety

Rishabh Shrivastava and Abhimanyu Shrivastava

dOn the night of 26 January, 2001 at 8:46 P.M. state of Gujarat was quaked down by the earthquake of 7.6 and 7.7 magnitudes with its epicenter as Chobni village in Gujarat near Bhuj, as a result this earthquake came to be known as Bhuj Earthquake. This earthquake was one of the major natural disasters that India experienced. Earlier, Bengal Famine and Tsunami of 2004 left Indians shattered. The Bhuj Earthquake left 20,000 people died, 167,000 people injured and around 400,000 homes destroyed. India’s economy also struk down as the Gujarat is a major hub for trade and all. People could not believe that half of the Gujarat was destroyed in that Earthquake. Before that also the Indian leaders or the bureaucrats or the people never felt the need for an agency which might take care of the disasters which we call as ‘Disaster Management’. After such a huge natural loss, it took almost 4 years for our mighty Indian Parliament (and the Indian Government) to frame the ‘Disaster Management Act’, through which, for the first time in India a central disaster management agency was created known as National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on 23 December, 2005.

It is unbelievable, for the people like us, that India challenges to be the top most countries in all the fields, but the time since Britishers left India, there was no Central authority that could have mitigate the risks arising out of the natural or man-made disasters. Today if people talk about China and Russia, their development, their nuclear capability and the hazards of it, they must also be aware of the fact that how capable they are. One must remember that within the period of certain months of nuclear disaster known as Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Disaster in Japan, the disaster management agency of Japan- Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) cleared toxic waste and built the rehabilitation camps within fortnight. The government took unbelievable steps-because they were taken in a quick period of time-which reduced the possibility of next, such big disaster. This has been the difference between these nations and India. It took almost years for India to get itself back on track after a mass chemical disaster in the Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh known as Bhopal Gas Tragedy when metric tonnes of Methyl Isocyanate spread through the local town of Bhopal. Till now the young ones born there suffer from regular disturbed physical and mental aliments and from that day to this day in India there exist no proper legislation that could have a check on these Man-made disasters. Keeping focus on this disaster issue, here are some of the observations about the NDMA, the central authority of India that claims to be technology driven, alert, well-organised, coordinated, with communication at its best, state of art facilities, training and workshops etc. to which extent it is successful. Can we really depend on NDMA? And if not, then who is going to protect against the natural and man-made disasters or as many say, that all these disasters are the results of human’s barbaric treatment on Environment and mother Earth, and we are helpless before it. Can’t we do anything, can’t we even prepare ourselves, can’t we protect ourselves, and can’t we lessen the damage, really?

Starting from the organisation arrangement of the NDMA, Chairman constitutes of the Prime Minister of India, Vice-Chairman will be a person of a rank of a Cabinet Minister and the other 8 members will be the state ministers. Now if one closely observes this organisation structure, it seems more of a political committee, right from the Prime Minister to the members present they are from political background, they are concerned with the mainland politics of the nation. Now, being little bit practical (because everyone knows how are democracy works), the PM is the head of the government and already occupied with the work like looking towards the ministries, heading the cabinet meetings, foreign relations, public grievances, and many other vital work which PM has to do. There is no single member who is well-versed with the knowledge of disaster management posted at the prime posts in the NDMA. The reason which one of the senior journalists gave was that “since the functioning and reporting of NDMA is done to MHA, therefore the PM is the Chairman of the authority”. Presence of politics can be felt in NDMA. Disaster Management Authority, which has been ignored by the Indian government since the Independence after seven years of its creation, is yet dominated by the big bureaucrats of the national political parties. Obviously, where the PM is the Chairman, Cabinet Member is the Vice Chairman and the members are also state ministers, before taking any decision they will think of the ‘hands of god’ that is upon them. The triumph over bureaucratic culture should be the objective of the NDMA. Selecting the Cabinet ministers, state ministers, Prime Minister is transformation of a prime disaster agency into a great political theatre. Obviously, the more will be the ministers the more will be the politics, and such activities will prove faulty for the nation. Therefore, the government should create an independent and parent authority for the disaster management, because this is not a small issue every individual’s life and nation’s economic growth is related to, and if it is not possible than immediately an amendment should be made, scraping out the Cabinet Ministers and State Minsters out of the organisation and persons who are well-versed in the field of disaster management should be-hold that respective positions. This will not only lessen the bureaucracy and corruption among the authority but also increase the efficiency and effectiveness.

Secondly, coming on the committees present under the scheme of National Disaster Management Act, there exist a parent committee known as ‘National Crisis Management Committee’ (MCMC), the function of this committee is to pass the directions and guidelines to the lower committees namely, Crisis Management Group, Control Room of MHA, State Satellite Stations etc. this arrangement has been provided at the National or Principal Level. But if one studies the National Disaster Management Act, it clearly states that the responsibility of disaster management lies with the respective state where the catastrophe has occurred. Now, can anyone can elucidate that what is the use of having same tiers and levels under the NDMA at both the Central and State level. If the Act itself states that the State has to take the steps for managing the disaster, than why a Central Committee, NCMC, at one hand is reporting to the other sub-level workgroups at Central Level and the same structure is drawn out in the State machinery. This is leading in complexity and cumbersomity. A clear demarcation between the duties of state and Centre is still not stable and flawless. There is presence of ambigousity in both the authority and the legislation.

Thirdly, the most important issue, all the projects that have been initiated by the NDMA namely (with their financial sanctions) – National Earthquake Mitigation Project- Rs. 90 Cr., Landslide Risk Mitigation Project- Rs. Cr., Disaster Management Communication Network- Rs. 25 Cr., Other Disaster Management Projects- Rs. 93 Cr., National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project with assistance from World Bank- Rs. 25 cr., National Flood Disaster Management- Rs.35 Cr. If an individual visits the national website of NDMA, and analyse the financial sheet of these projects available one can mark that technology column is marked NIL. This is the prime reason, the NDMA is under the scrutiny, and 85% of the NDMA is being worked with the help foot soldiers which are using their own equipments. The technology driven environment is lacking in NDMA. The stories of corruption in every individual project are also evident. Ministry is spending large amount of financial sanctions yet the basic confirmation of improvement is still missing from the framework. “The NDMA has lacked to make the best use of the financial aid provided by the Union” says CAG.

Last but not the least, the lack of accountability and coordination has proved to be the most prejudicial aspects for NDMA. Neither the authority nor the government is taking efforts to realise this problem. Due to Centre-State model, the ‘blame-game’ has been the flashing point for this authority. There have been continuous reports from state that Centre is not supporting State, Centre blames State that after providing the financial aid also the states have failed to implement the actions. This war in terms of rigidity between the center and state has paralysed the whole working of the NDMA. The officials of NDMA has also no clue that how to create a strong and active charter for the India’s supreme disaster management authority. The absence of strong leadership, red-tapism, bureaucracy, political environment, lack of coordination seems to be the demerits for this organisation.

A Central Nervous system has to be created, that could keep the NDMA supreme. The balance between the powers of Centre and State has to be achieved. More technological improvements should be taken by the NDMA. Political environment should be curbed down. A proper layout regarding the functioning of the disaster management authority must be prepared. The delegation by the committees of NDMA at both the center and state level must be restricted. A separate ministry for disaster management must be created. Different departments within the NDMA must be created. A strong focal point from where the decisions can be dispersed in a uniform way must be constituted. Necessary amendments must be made in the act. Technological collaborations must be emphasised.

An immediate attention is required in the field of disaster management because a calamity won’t be coming at our doors first before claiming the lives of many. We must be in a network where we can protect ourselves and our livelihood. In this way not only our standard of living but the country’s economic culture will also flourish. We don’t want once again to see the incidents like Bhopal Gas tragedy, although recent GAIL pipeline explosion in Nagram (Andhra Pradesh), building collapse in Delhi, Bombay and Bengal, rehabilitation process of Uttarakhand Flood Tragedy has been continuously pointing the failure of NDMA. All this can be summed up as “Only Fire no Safety”. We depend on almighty only for his mercy upon us.                                         

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