No lessons learnt about handling disasters by government or planners

New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: Whether it’s 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods or 2014 Srinagar deluge, no lessons are learnt from disasters, either by the government or by the planners. Not only the large amount is allocated to the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the stellar force, pressed for rescuing victims remains unspent, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a body mandated to ensure responses to disasters, remains headless for over a year now.


An aerial view of the submerged Chennai airport on Wednesday Reuters

Moreover, the prime minister Narendra Modi recently, a year after, announced a package of Rs7,854 crore for reconstruction and flood management for Jammu and Kashmir, environmentalists are surprised that even after such a large-scale devastation, no ban has been imposed on constructions in low-lying areas. A similar situation exists in the Uttrakhand as well.

Experts had hoped changes in land use policy, building structures and city expansion. “But nothing has changed. People are still engaged in constructions near Jhelum and encroaching its embankments. Even government appears at peace with this dangerous status quo,” a state government officer told dna. A year later, there are no plans to de-silt river Jhelum. Almost 5,334 million tonnes of soil gets deposited in water bodies annually and yet the massive dredging still awaits a nod. While major breaches have been restored, some 70 of them still need restoration.

A similar indifference is marked at the central level as well. In 2014-15, the NDRF was allocated Rs200 crore. However, the force was unable to spend so, the revised estimates were reduced to Rs50 crore. The actual expenditure at the end of year turned to a meager Rs7.11 crore. Despite of this, in 2015-16, insiders say, there was little to use this amount for developing both residential as well as office accommodation and training infrastructure at the battalions. The force has submitted a proposal of Rs2,000 crore, an MHA officer told the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Eight out of ten battalions of NDRF (each NDRF battalion consists of 1,149 personnel) deployed across the country have no permanent buildings and facilities for its men. Only two battalions posses permanent structures which exist at Mundali, Odisha and Pune. The rest eight — Guwahati, Kolkata, Patna, Ghaziabad, Vadodara, Bhatinda, Vijaywada and Arakonam — are operating out of makeshift structures and tents.

The NDMA, an apex body under disaster management act, constituted in September 2006, has no vice-chairman, over the past 18 months. “The country can ill afford indecisiveness at apex level in matter of disaster management,” says Congress spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Rajiv Gowda. The NDMA, chaired by prime minister has just three members, Dr DN Sharma, Kamal Kishore and Lt Gen NC Marwah.