Nation totally unprepared to deal with disasters
Frequency of disasters, natural as well as manmade, due to increase in urbanisation and development of the avoidable kind, has been on the increase in the country, causing significant loss of life and damage to infrastructure and government facilities.
In such a scenario, the importance of disaster preparedness, more specifically disaster mitigation and prevention efforts, cannot be overstated.
Sadly, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has not met even once since May 2008 though it is supposed to meet once in three months to take stock of the situation.
According to the performance audit of the NDMA by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, Vinod Rai, and Director-General of Audit, Roy Mathrani, submitted to Parliament last week, the country is thoroughly unprepared to meet any kind of natural disasters.
There is neither a national plan for disaster management nor any national guidelines binding on the States in the preparation of state-level plans, the report says. Crucial and critical posts in the NDMA are lying vacant for years.
Four out of nine members of the NDMA have either retired or resigned. But the government has not appointed anyone to take their place.
What is more shocking is not making use of the special satellite-based communication network procured in 2006 as a stand-by alternative channel of communication when normal telecommunication services get disrupted in the event of a cyclone, earthquake or a tsumani.
The absence of this facility was acutely felt by the Tamil Nadu government when cyclone Thane struck the Cuddalore coast two years ago and the entire telecommunication services in the district broke down.
If only the National Disaster Communication Network, on which Rs. 29 crore was spent six years ago, was in place, much of the sufferings of the people of Cuddalore could have been mitigated.
The National Database for Emergency Management, which was to be completed by August 2011, is yet to see the light of day. The National Disaster Management Informatics System is still on the drawing board.
The Hyderabad-based Indian National Ocean Information Service has developed an excellent tsunami warning system which can alert not only coastal India but also the Indian Ocean Rim countries of impending tsunami well in advance but the country is yet to prepare a Standard Operating Procedure in the event of a tsunami.
The country does not have a system to check any biological disasters. There are no laboratory facilities and surveillance units at national entry points like airports and ports, which means there is no mechanism to prevent contagious and pandemic diseases like avian flu making an entry into the country.
The CAG report also warns of radiation leak in the country. A nuclear accident can have mind boggling consequences, both extensive and inter-generational. Under instructions from Manmohan Singh, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited is under intense pressure to commission the Koodankulam power plant in April itself even after coming to know the Russians have supplied sub-standard equipment.
The failure of one of these can result in a serious accident than can endanger the people in the area. Till date, NPCIL has not cared to ensure that the local authorities and the people residing around Koodankulam are trained to cope with a major disaster.
The fact that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board is a subordinate to the Department of Atomic Energy and therefore cannot be viewed as a credible, independent regulator, as corroborated by CAG, further compounds the apprehensions of the people.
Not recognising the deficiencies of the National Disaster Response Force, the absence of remedial steps by the Prime Minister and not having a single chain of command is fraught with danger to the people of the country.