By Amita Singh
India’s increased vulnerability to disasters and repeated calamities in the last two years is a fallout of development against nature and climate change. Orissa’s super cyclone in 1999 and Bhuj’s devastating earthquake in 2001 accelerated efforts to put governance of disasters in order. Still it took four years to enact the Disaster Management Act 2005 (DMA) and constitute the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The “Hyogo Declaration on the Framework for Action” 2005-2015 (HDFA) presented a blueprint to be followed by 168 signatory states. The most effective and visible outcome of DMA is the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in 2006 which is now the most visible and defensible institutional response of the government.
An aerial view of flood-affected areas of Assam Pic by Ravi Batra
Disaster management has featured in all the five-year plans starting from the 10th FYP in 2002, which brought out a separate chapter 7 on the need for an integrated management of disaster preparedness and prevention. By the 12th FYP in 2012, India’s approach to disasters had matured from a top down relief operations to the need for building community resilience in the disaster mitigation policies. From a traditional approach of managing disasters through a ‘Calamity Relief’ kind of a dispersed non-plan expenditure item. Disasters are now attended to in a more professional manner, through an established governance framework and greater participatory and community-based efforts in resilience building. As institutions manifest the nature of governance, there is much which is left to be done by changing the overall national environment.
The NDMA’s main role is to lay down policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management, create effective leadership, network with academia, experts, and international bodies.The Phalin disaster in Orissa was a test of NDRF’s aptitude, skill, and training. NDRF emerged as a potentially powerful and multi-skilled and coordinated force capable of dealing with all forms of disasters.
Disasters cause tremendous loss to life and property. But the ailments, estrangement, alienation, emotional and psychological shocks paranoia destroy more generations that survive the disasters. The earthquake at Bhuj uprooted 6.3 million people and damaged property worth Rs.22,000 crores in addition to leaving over 25,000 buried alive The economic losses in the recent Kashmir disaster is beyond Rs. One lac crores. That is when the loss on account of wildlife, livestock, farm and other animals is still being calculated. The loss on account of last year’s Uttarakhand disaster is more than the GDP of the state. Recovering from such losses is a challenge. It’s not easy to heal the physical, economic and emotional wounds.
Flood Relief Camp Photo By Ravi Batra
Disasters don’t knock before coming and can strike anywhere, anytime. The NCR region is vulnerable to earthquakes. The Aravali rocks, which could shield us from severe desert storms and earthquakes are being pulled out. Indiscriminate construction of high-rise buildings, basements and construction over fragile aquifer zones is multiplying the risk of disasters.
What is the alternative? NDMA is too isolated and weak to make an impact. Disaster is an interdisciplinary task which only a political executive heading a ministry could do. Disaster prevention and mitigation should be linked to environmental protection laws. The NDMA should appropriately be raised to the level of a Ministry headed by a Minister. NDRF should become a specialized wing of NDMA, supervised by the Home Ministry.
Chief Ministers and District functionaries should be made accountable for environmentally appropriate land use. At the ground level, the Panchayats should be asked to bear the burden of their disaster-related responsibilities, even if it means amending the 11th Schedule of Panchayat Raj Act of 1992. Panchayats should be responsible for environmentally sustainable land use based upon appropriate evaluation through GIS mapping.
Disasters are born deep inside the earth. The people cannot even see them, and they are not likely to change their mind or fury because of ad hoc measures taken by the district administrations from time to time. Planting a tree, a pond or biodiversity park can impress school kids but are no match for mighty disasters. What India needs is a radical overhaul of governance philosophy?
Prof. Amita Singh is Chairperson and Head of the Centre for study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.