God save us

God save us

Whenever there is a major disaster or an accident there is adverse mention of  the functioning of the National Disaster Management Authority  (NDMA) and its failure to deal effectively with it.

A performance audit of the agency, made by the Comptroller and Auditor-General  (CAG) and submitted to Parliament last week, confirms clearly the deficiencies in the working of this agency. The authority, headed by the prime minister, was conceived as the apex planning and supervisory body for disaster prevention and mitigation.  But it has not met once since May 2008, though it is expected to meet once in three months. Four out of nine members have resigned or retired and the vacancies are left unfilled. It was expected to formulate a national disaster management plan but has not done it in six years.  The agencies in states are also non-performing.

Readiness to handle disasters, setting up of communication and other infrastructure facilities and fast and effective deployment of personnel are important elements in any  disaster management plan. Though adequate funding was available the agency has been found deficient in all these areas. An expensive satellite-based network which was set up to ensure unhindered communication in times of disaster is not yet functional. The national disaster relief force which was formed to act fast when it is needed suffers from lack of training  and facilities. The report has cited an example of the force reaching the earth quake  affected areas in Sikkim in 2011 without basic equipment and necessities.

Projects were taken up without sufficient consideration and left incomplete. There were also cases of  lack of co-ordination with other agencies doing the same work that the NDMA was doing.  Very often the NDMA did not have information about what was being planned and done at the state level.

 The situation is the same at the state level. The report was prepared on the basis of a study of the handling of disaster situations in a number of states. In the states also the authority hardly or never met in the last five years, though natural or man-made disasters  occurred in all of them during the period. The country is prone to disasters, and floods, droughts, earth quakes and other calamities are common. They cause much misery and loss of lives and property. An effective disaster management system is essential but it is lacking.

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