An effective civilian disaster management structure can take the load off the military during natural calamities
Yunus Dar | New Delhi
India, with its location and climate, is among the most vulnerable countries in terms of natural disasters. The country is prone to disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones and earthquakes, which cause tremendous damage to property and loss of life. With climate change becoming a reality, instances of natural calamities are going up.
In 2005 the government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act, thereafter, the National Policy on Disaster Management was adopted in 2009. Subsequently, in 2015, the country adopted three international agreements including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The government came to realise the requirement to shift from a post-disaster reactive approach to a pre-disaster pro-active approach, focusing on preparedness, mitigation, and prevention.
When it comes to disaster management, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has the overall responsibility of putting in place the mechanism and institutions for disaster management and mitigation, besides coordinating efforts between different departments. The home ministry acts along with India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to oversee humanitarian and rescue missions. The National Executive Committee (NEC) is a key component of the national disaster management structure and assists the NDMA with overseeing national disaster management activities. The central government supervises and guides the NEC, along with the state governments and State Emergency Committees (SECs) to aid in disaster management.
It was in 2016 that India for the first time unveiled a blueprint to tackle national disasters through National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP). The plan, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to make the country disaster resilient, reducing loss of lives and property during natural calamities. Besides laying a framework to deal with various aspects of disaster management cycle, like prevention, mitigation, response and recovery, the plan lays down the responsibilities of various government departments at the levels of central, state, district and Panchayat. Fifteen disasters are outlined by NDMP, and it entrusts various ministries for their management and mitigation.
However, critics have pointed out several flaws in the NDMP. The plan, they say, fails to lay down a clear and practical roadmap. Besides being too generic in its specification of roles to be undertaken by the central and state governments for disaster risk mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery, reconstruction, and governance, it doesn’t project any fund requirement or the way they can be mobilised. The NDMP doesn’t provide a time-frame for undertaking the specified activities beyond vaguely prescribing that these must be taken up in short, medium, mid- and long-term basis.
Armed Forces in Disaster Management
The armed forces form the backbone of large-scale humanitarian assistance efforts and are a significant component of India’s disaster management structure. Although they are mandated to assist the civil administration only when the scale of the disasters is beyond anyone’s capacity, the lack of a robust mechanism at the state level has put more responsibility on them. Not to mention the role of the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs), the state police forces and fire services, civil defence and home guards, besides the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), which play a significant role in disaster response. The armed forces tend to be the first responders of natural calamities on a large scale.
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