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How Equipped Are India”s Disaster Management Policies?

Posted on April 9, 2012 in Environment

By Ashish Kumar:

Occurrence of disasters like floods, droughts and cyclones dates back to the origin of earth’s evolution. Humans, buoyed by aura around their superior intellect kept messing with the natural equilibrium and today it would be no exaggeration to say that disasters are of just one kind- ‘man-mad’. Man, in its insatiable quest of development is deforming nature beyond repair and nature is manifesting its wrath in disasters. Not to mention the frequent industrial disasters which take a heavy toll on life and property.

Need for disaster management by government- Disasters not only cause Kafkaesque proportion of irreparable loss of life and property but a hefty sum is also spent in rehabilitation and relief in the aftermath of the disaster. In India, around 2% of GDP is wasted due to destruction or is spent in rehabilitation. The poor and underprivileged whose number is one of the largest in our country and are the most vulnerable to such disasters are hit the strongest. This renders disaster management all the more important in a developing economy like ours. Apart from food security, financial inclusion and alleviation of property, disaster management is one of the important indicators of the welfare capacity of state.

Responsible institutions and authorities-The nodal ministry for natural-disaster is Home-ministry, for air-accidents it is Civil-Aviation and for droughts it is Agriculture. National-disasters are also looked after by Empowered Group of Ministers and institutions like National Crisis Risk Management headed by Cabinet Secretary, Crisis Management Group spearheaded by Central Relief Commissioner and National Disaster Management Division within the government. The Chief Secretary of state leads a State-level committee for disaster management. District Level Coordination and Review Committee led by Collector exist at district-level. Deputy Commissioner, District Magistrate and Collector look over and ensure the coordination of all the department and institution for implementation of disaster relief measures. Bodies like Industrial Meteorology Department, Central Water Commission, Building and Water Promotion Council etc. provide technical support for coordination of departments and risk assessment and forecasting. Disaster Risk Management Program was enacted in 2002 while separate state-level disaster management authority was created for Gujarat and Orissa. Looking at all this, one would be disguised to believe that all is hunky-dory with our disaster-making policies, but, unfortunately, that is not the case.

There are enormous cracks in what appears a solid shield. Some of them are elucidated here:

Financial and Statutory Constraints
Allocations for disaster management by the government – both State and Union – have been paltry to say the least. Almost in all the larger calamities like Tsunami in Tamil Nadu and Cyclone in Orissa, a major chunk of relief money has come from multilateral-like United Nations. This excessive dependence on foreign aid restricts the concerned authorities to indulge in short-term relief and long-term planning and mitigation is ignored. Statutory regulations are also a considerable bottleneck. For example, Centre’s financial assistance to the states can be used only as revenue expenditure for relief and rehabilitation measures while money for long-term measures like risk-assessment, forecasting infrastructure, emergency shelters etc. have to be borne by the states as capital expenditure. To top it all, the grant of assistance has been deeply influenced by partisan politics. So, the grant comes easily if the state is ruled by the same party as Centre. Little consideration is given to economic and financial status of the states while deciding the grant. Disaster Management hasn’t found its due place in Five-Year-Plans.

Post-Disaster Rather Than Pre-Disaster
The approach to disaster management has so far been reactive response to disasters after they occur. Not much attention has been paid to mitigation. Post-disaster has taken precedence over pre-disaster. Other important aspects of disaster management like event prediction, dissemination of warning, risk-avoidance actions, installation of hard-wares and emergency response plans have taken a beating.

Obsolete Technology
The technology used for forecasting or assessment is medieval. The territory of disaster management has been aloof from the IT boom in the country. The advanced techniques like Remote Sensing and Real-time weather analysis are still to set foot in India. Impotent radars and signal transduction instrument make it tough to transmit the signals and warning in time. Abundance of snail-paced vehicles added to apathy of officials make it too late for the disaster-relief entourage to save lives which were in danger and could have been saved.

Diseased Implementation Mechanism
Each community has its own indigenous way of recuperating and fighting a disaster. These aren’t taken into account while planning the relief. Local bodies like Panchayats, Municipalities and SHGs, who actually know the problems of people, are alienated. Distribution of relief is highly discriminatory. Differential needs of the victims like disabled, women, children and senior citizen aren’t given a thought. Only a modicum of accountability prevails among the concerned authorities and hence no surprise that the relief-money has gone so frequently in the scammer’s pockets.

Excess Neo-Liberalism
Licenses to intrude the environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas are being distributed in plenty, without a check. These corporates blinded and steered by their profit motives distort the geography of the site beyond repair and call for a disaster. Corporate Social Responsibility, they pledge to take is highly disproportionate to the damage they cause and is hugely concentrated to their clientele. This politico-corporate nexus calls for disaster and checking it would be a robust step towards a powerful disaster management policy.

Too Late, Too Little
At majority of places, relief measures have been supply-driven rather than demand-driven. Ex-gratia compensation has been inadequate, unreliable and unrealistic, and is a continuous victim of state government’s laxity to transfer funds. The funds take eternity to funnel down from the top of the hierarchy to the needy and when it reaches their hand, it is metamorphosed to alms rather than relief money.

Disaster management in India has been primarily confined to post-disaster relief and implementation of pre-disaster planning for mitigation has been given little thought. Absence of disaster management from all the three lists- Union, State and Concurrent of the Constitution has made it a virgin territory in terms of legislations. Inadequate fund-allocation for relief and planning in both State and Union budgets as well as Five Year plans complemented with the continuous buck passing due to entangled chain of commands and authority has made long-term risk mitigation planning a far-fetched reality.

Shift from post to pre-disaster would be a paradigm in disaster management. Setting up a national body embellished with cutting-edge technology, adequately funded by the governments and accountable to non-governmental bodies like CAG is required. Grass root level participation for implementation of these schemes is a must. Local bodies must be taken into confidence for this. Corporates must be made to pay proportionately to what they are doing to the environment. As the 12th Five Year Plan is on its way, it is high time our government gives a serious thought to disaster management as the cost benefit analysis tells that without planning our costs are much higher than our saving benefits.