Saturday, November 29, 2008
Mumbai disaster: a need for centralized and coordinated crisis management
While watching for hours together on TV the latest terrorist attack on Mumbai, I was thinking, on the basis of a study I had done earlier, that the management of the crisis could have been different and more effective if a proper system was in place. This statement is not meant in any way to be critical of the brave and committed efforts by the police, National Security Guards (NSG) and the Defense Forces in fighting the terrorists.
A few years back I had submitted a project profile on National Disaster Management, which also briefly covered terrorism, to the Government of India. The then Cabinet Secretary convened a meeting at Delhi to which I was invited and given the opportunity to speak first. This was followed by discussions.
It was a disappointing exercise for me. Most of the people who attended could only see localized situations, say, like cyclones on the East Coast, and not the total picture. However, I understand that my suggestions including the name for the organization were given due consideration when the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was formed under the Ministry of Home Affairs. I am not aware how effectively the NDMA is operating.
The world runs on meticulously prepared systems, and dedicated and qualified men who implement and run them. Was such procedure available and followed when the terrorists struck Mumbai on November 26? I do not know.
If such a plan was in force, a unified command would have taken over immediately when the magnitude of the attack became evident. The top officials would have been in the War Room to help the crisis management with their experience, expertise and genius.
Perhaps our intelligence system requires a revamp. It seems to be based more on traditional concepts. And there are so many agencies involved, coming under different ministries and states. Sometimes they cooperate with each other and at other times each proceeds alone. A centralized coordinating mechanism seems to be the answer.
One of the points that I had stressed in my report to the Government of India was that VIPs should stay away from disaster sites. Their visits distract people who are engaged in critical assignments and overburden the police with their security concerns.
And lastly – the people who are agitating to keep non-Maharashtrians out of Mumbai would be doing a great service if they instead focus their energy and efforts to sanitize this great city from terrorists. Those who are so bravely fighting the invaders include many non-Maharashtrians. They come from several parts of the country and belong to different castes and communities.