Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Himalayan disaster and the blunders

The colossal devastation caused by nature particularly in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, is so saddening. It has also exposed the deficiencies in India’s disaster management capabilities.

A few years back I had attended a meeting in Delhi convened by the Cabinet Secretary to discuss disaster management. I had submitted a project profile to the Government of India suggesting the formation of a full-fledged National Disaster Management Authority.

Something on these lines was finally done when Disaster Management Act, 2005 was passed and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was constituted. Instead of a full time body of experts, this set up was headed by the Prime Minister. Another politician is the Vice-Chairman. We have seen how tragically it failed in the present Himalayan calamity.

Enter Narendra Modi. He rushes to Dehradun, ‘evacuates 15,000 Gujarathis in a day’ and there is clapping all around. Na Mo Magic. Did those who tried to sell this story through the media - quite possibly Modi’s publicity agents Apco Worldwide of the U.S. - think that everyone would swallow it? Logistically that claim was impossible

This Modi episode relating to the Himalayan deluge has generated other negative impacts as well:

1. A feeling has started developing that if Modi ever becomes the Prime Minister of India, the Gujarathis would get priority over other Indians in everything including disasters. Internationally followed evacuation procedures would be ignored. Hindus would try to save only Hindus, Muslims only their own and so on.

2. People in other states became angry with their Chief Ministers because of the wrong information about Modi’s ‘miraculous achievement’. Imagine every Chief Minister landing in Dehradun at the same time and trying to save only their people! Because teams from several states arrived in Dehradun for arranging selective evacuation the Uttarakhand Government had to make an appeal against it.

3. Should each state have disaster management units to operate across India to save its own people in the event of a catastrophe?

Another sad instance - really I don’t like to say this, but I feel bad about the reaction of some sanyasis from my own state, Kerala because they were not given priority in the evacuation process. They wanted a helicopter to escape and even offered to pay for it. How magnanimous it would have been if that money was donated to help the sick and the maimed.

According to certain reports, Christian priests and nuns who are being constantly persecuted are staying back in Uttarakhand to help. Mata Amritanandamayi’s Institute of Medical Sciences has sent a 30 member disaster medical team of experts to Uttarakhand.

I believe that all the sanyasis were rescued but still they held a dharna in front of the Trivandrum Secretariat. One of the people who visited and encouraged them was the President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee! What kind of politics was that? Was anybody impressed?

The sanyasis I suppose know the “Golden Sayings” ( by heart. Perhaps they forgot the great wisdom contained in those words when they faced the discomfort of the floods. Did any one of the sanyasis say a prayer for those who died in the helicopter crash during rescue operations? Do something for their families? One of the chaps who died in that accident, Jose Mon is from the village next to mine, in Alleppey District. The tragedy has cut across the whole of India.

The Home Minister of India admitted that there were some deficiencies in handling the calamity at least initially. Those could provide a guideline for the future. And, a re-look at the NDMA and its functioning may be required. What would have been an effective step, I think was not even considered. As soon as the immensity of the disaster was realized, Local Emergency could have been declared by the President. I believe that the Constitution provides for that.

Let us salute and thank the men in uniforms. But for them, how many thousands more would have died? They are the heroes and the nation is grateful to them.



Meera's World said...

I agree with u 100%. The sanyasis crying to save themselves should be the joke of the year, when in fact they should have been staying there until the last person was saved. I remember this- vella thecha savakkallarakal.nothing good inside,its pathetic...ya each chief minister should have been there calling out-malayalees,telugu,tamilians over here....even at the face of such a disaste,we cant think and do as one..salute to army,always

Abraham Tharakan said...

Meera's World, thank you for the comment.