How Good is India’s Disaster Management System

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

Ill prepared to face the Challenge

Ill prepared to face the Challenge

There appears to be a general consensus that the central disaster agency (NDMA) has failed to carry out most of its functions since its inception 7 years ago. The recent Uttarakhand tragedy has only underscored this tragic but explicit truth.

NDMA was constituted under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 to draft policies and guidelines on disaster management, risk mitigation and prevention of disasters, and approve and coordinate the implementation of plans for disaster preparedness and management at the Central, state and ministerial levels. It is headed by the prime minister just like the Planning Commission. However, in the past seven years, the authority has been ineffective in carrying out most of its functions.

The flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand of June 2013 decisively proved the absence of any preventive and mitigation measure. This happened in a state that has history of such disasters! The post disaster relief response has been also equally poor—more than 70,000 people are reported missing. How prepared the Apex disaster body would be in other parts of the country for dealing with totally unexpected events is anyone’s guess?

NDMA had initiated projects for flood mitigation and landslide mitigation at the national level in 2008. However, those projects have either been abandoned midway or are being redesigned because of poor planning. The projects to prepare national vulnerability atlases of landslides, floods and earthquake are also incomplete. Experts feel if such projects would have been implemented properly the damage in Uttarakhand could have been much less.

CAG Indictment

According to the performance audit report of April 2013 of the disaster management mechanism in the country by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, NDMA has neither had information and control over the progress of disaster management work in the states, nor could it successfully implement various projects it had initiated for disaster preparedness and mitigation. What’s more, the authority has been functioning without its core advisory committee of experts that advises it on different aspects of disaster management for the past three years.

The report further pointed out that the NDMA has also not been performing several functions as prescribed in the Disaster Management Act. These include recommending provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation and recommending relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans. Besides, several critical posts in NDMA are vacant and consultants were used for day to day work (mean paper work).

According to law, NDMA should have an advisory committee of experts in the field of disaster management at the national, state or district level. The first advisory committee of NDMA was constituted in 2007 for two years. Later, the term was extended for one more year. However, since June 2010, NDMA is functioning without the advisory committee. Why? [a routine and classic example of governance deficit in India]

And what is the excuse?

Initially, it was stated that several ministries had not sent the proposals of the names of experts to be included in the committee. But then, the excuse was modified: the names are being reviewed by the Prime Minister’s Office. It will be stupid to talk of accountability here!

No Major Project Completed

The CAG report also highlighted several other loopholes in the functioning of NDMA. It said none of the major projects taken up by NDMA was complete even after seven years of its functioning. The projects were either abandoned midway or were being redesigned because of initial poor planning. The major projects include producing vulnerability atlases for floods, earthquakes and landslides, national landslide risk mitigation project, national flood risk mitigation project and national disaster management information system.

Is NDMA Just Another White Elephant?

Consider the following facts about its style of functioning:

  • NDMA’s headquarter is in South Delhi’s plush Safdarjung Enclave.
  • It holds press conferences about human tragedies in luxurious five-star hotels.
  • The Prime Minister is its ex officio chairman, and its vice-chairman equals a Cabinet minister in status. Other members, mostly retired bureaucrats and police officers, are as powerful as the ministers of state.
  • Its National Executive Committee has not met at all between 2008 and 2012. Seven years after it came into being, the authority doesn’t even have a working plan.
  • Most NDMA projects, conceptualized soon after it was constituted in May 2005, have failed to get started. The body formally came into existence in September 2006. Projects like earthquakes, flood and landslide risk mitigation have been in cold storage despite being approved way back in 2007. Due to improper planning, projects are abandoned midway or are lying incomplete.

Some of the key roles that the NDMA is expected to perform are: lay down policy on disaster management, approve national Disaster Management plan, lay down guidelines to be followed by Central ministries and state authorities, and provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters.

The National Disaster Plan (NDP) hasn’t been formulated even after seven years of the enactment of the Disaster Management Act. The NDP was to define the guidelines for prevention of disasters, preparedness and roles and responsibilities of different arms of the government.

A key objective of the NDMA is proactive prevention of loss of life and property in disasters. Needless to say, the NDMA has failed miserably. The June 2013 tragedy of Uttarakhand explicitly exposed the incompetence of the NDMA bureaucracy.

A senior bureaucrat in a state government who closely worked with the NDMA in the last two years explained what plagues this body.

According to a senior bureaucrat who has worked closely with the NDMA for two years, “The lack of effective leadership at the top (vice-chairperson) is the key source of problems.” The vice-chairman is too happy to blame the meteorological department for the utter absence of NDMA’s performance in the Uttarakhand. What Mr Vice Chairman of NDMA, M. Shashidhar Reddy, fails to understand is that tragedies cost human lives – and he is suppose to feel responsible for saving them, not shift the blame elsewhere. Saving lives is altogether a different ball-game than evasive verbal acrobatics – bureaucrats, with guaranteed perks and privileges, and politicians are hardly the suitable people when it comes to save human lives or tackle disastrous situations.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) slammed the NDMA’s functioning in a report tabled in March 2013. The CAG report says: “The performance of NDMA in terms of project implementation had been abysmal. So far, no major project taken by NDMA had seen completion. It was noticed that NDMA selected projects without proper ground work and as a result either the projects were abandoned midway or were incomplete after a considerable period.”

It adds further, “In many cases, NDMA realized midway that some other agency was already executing projects with similar objectives. Timelines in most of its projects were absent and where ever they were given, they were not adhered to.”

And, what is the response of the brilliant top boss of the NDMA?

“We are ready to work on it but the government auditor needs to be sensitized about disasters.”

Perhaps he is himself unaware that as much as 59% of the nation’s land area is prone to moderate and severe earthquakes; 23,000 lives were lost in six major earthquakes between 1990 and 2006. It also doesn’t require much intelligence to realize that landslides in the sub-Himalayan hills and floods in some parts of the country are fairly annual feature.

It is for the whole nation to see how fit he is to hold such an important position that involves saving human lives and national property.

Reading Further

Uttarakhand Disaster of June 2013
A detailed pdf report: Disaster management in India

About Goodpal

I am a firm believer in healthy people (mind and body both), healthy societies and healthy environment. Please feel free to comment, share and broadcast your views. Thanks for stopping by. Have a Good Day!
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2 Responses to How Good is India’s Disaster Management System

  1. Abhishek says:

    Reblogged this on From an Engineer's heart and commented:
    A must read on india’s NDMA in reference to the June 2013 Disaster.

  2. yayaver says:

    I worked with SEEDS India, non-profit organisation as an internship preparing draft of district disaster management plan of Bhind district during summer of 2012. The support and guidance from the government was far far below the lower expectations. Bhind is an area that does not fall into severe earthquake zone. Revenue department looks for relief work like frost, snake bite and any other small scale risks for compensation. Since, they are more busy working on land records, this seem to be an additional burden. Home Guards are there to be deployed in the case of managing religious mela. This is done by an office order for the mela itself. there is no such meticulous planning for this. Only a meeting is done on 15th June each year to see preparation against floods. There are many more things at ground level that need to checked and proper budget allotted before criticizing NDMA.

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