Develop NDMA into a trained force

The government has done well to reconstitute the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with the induction of professional talent and experience into the working of the body.

The NDMA had become an ineffective white elephant as it was dominated by politicians and retired bureaucrats who had no knowledge of its functions and responsibilities.

It was constituted under an Act of parliament after the 2004 tsunami to coordinate responses to natural and man-made disasters and to build capacities to deal with them.

With the prime minister as the chairman, it was meant to be an important body at the national level to take immediate mitigation, relief and rehabilitation measures in disaster-hit areas. But the functioning of the NDMA has invited much criticism whenever it was called upon to act in such situations.

One main reason was the absence of the right leadership. A minor state-level politician was the vice-chairman and former civil servants and intelligence officials were members. It has rarely met, though it was expected to meet once in three months.

The reconstituted body has a professional look with experts who have domain knowledge in various areas of disaster management as its members. One new member is a Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) scientist with expertise in radiation-related areas, another is an advisor on disaster reduction at the UNDP and a third is an army officer with experience in disaster relief operations.

The new body has the task to formulate guidelines, develop contingency plans and evolve training packages which are needed in dealing with disasters. Much of the disaster relief operations in the country are undertaken by the army whose primary responsibilities and expertise are however different.

The glaring inadequacies of the NDMA had become obvious during last year’s floods in Uttarakhand and this year’s rain-related havoc in Kashmir. The army did stellar work on both these occasions but that underlined the need for a separate disaster management system.

In a vast country like India, disasters are common in some or other part of the country. Efforts to handle them are mostly ad hoc now. There is the need for a system with expertise, authority and resources to handle such situations to reduce loss of lives and property and also to prevent them.

The national disaster relief force has to be developed into a trained force with equipment and resources to be deployed immediately when the need arises. There is also the need for an efficient and dedicated communications network. Hopefully the reconstituted body will work to develop these facilities and strengthen the national capacities in this neglected area.

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