NATIONAL DEFUNCT MGMNT AUTHORITY
By Abhishek Bhalla & Bhuvan Bagga in New Delhi
Fat cat members on panel enjoy perks of Union ministers
Crisis management body did not meet between 2008 &2012
IT’S HEADQUARTERED in South Delhi’s plush Safdarjung Enclave. It holds press conferences about human tragedies in luxurious five- star hotels.
The Prime Minister is its ex officio chairman, and its vice- chairman equals a Cabinet minister in status.
Other members, mostly retired bureaucrats and police officers, can rub shoulders with ministers of state.
Welcome to the National Disaster Management Authority ( NDMA). With its performance — or more accurately, the abysmal lack of it — in the rain- ravaged Himalayan state exposing its defunct status, the NDMA stands exposed for the great man- made tragedy it is. Its National Executive Committee has not met at all between 2008 and 2012. Seven years after it came into being, the authority doesn’t even have a working plan. The Comptroller and Auditor General ( CAG) has slammed the NDMA’s functioning in a report tabled in March 2013.
Most NDMA projects, conceptualised soon after it was constituted in May 2005, have failed to get started. The body formally came into existence in September 2006.
Projects like earthquakes, flood and landslide risk mitigation have been in cold storage despite being approved way back in 2007. Due to improper planning, projects are abandoned midway or are lying incomplete.
senior bureaucrat in a state government who closely worked with the NDMA in the last two years explains what plagues this body. “ The absence of strong leadership at the centre of this body is a key problem.
Since the prime minister is its ex officio chairman, the onus of leading it on a day- today basis falls on the vice chairman,” he says. According to the officer, the NDMA, which has several senior retired bureaucrats members, needs a very strong vice- chairman.
“ At present, we’ve felt many times that there is a lack of coordination in the chain of command,” the officer says.
All that translates into a disaster: evaluation of the disaster preparedness at all levels government has taken a severe hit. The Uttarakhand situation underlines this with blood. NDMA chief M. Shashidhar Reddy doesn’t agree. He puts the onus for the NDMA’s latest failure on the meteorological department. “ Lives could have been saved if the weather office had issued precise forecasts.
The IMD followed a standard format of weather forecast and used certain terminologies like rainfall, heavy rainfall, but how are we supposed to translate it into action? They need to pinpoint where and how much it is going to rain,” he says.
In cold storage
Not even the most terrible statistics can wake the NDMA. For instance, the CAG says that as much as 59 per cent of the nation’s land area is prone to moderate and severe earthquakes; 23,000 lives were lost in six major earthquakes between 1990 and 2006.
And it doesn’t take an official report to realise that landslides in the hills and floods in some parts of the country are an annual feature.
Some of the key roles that the NDMA is expected to perform are: lay down policy on disaster management, approve national Disaster Management plan, lay down guidelines to be followed by Central ministries and state authorities, and provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters.
The performance of NDMA terms of project implementation had been abysmal. So far, major project taken by NDMA had seen completion. It was noticed that NDMA selected projects without proper ground work and as a result either the projects were abandoned midway or were incomplete after a considerable period,” the CAG report says.
In many cases, NDMA realised midway that some other agency was already executing projects with similar objectives.
Timelines in most of its projects were absent and where ever they were given, they were not adhered to,” it says.
Reddy’s response? “ We are ready to work on it but the government auditor needs to be sensitised about disasters,” says the NDMA chief.
The National Disaster plan NDP) hasn’t been formulated even after seven years of the enactment of the Disaster Management Act. The NDP was to define the guidelines for prevention of disasters, preparedness and roles and responsibilities of different arms of the government. One of the key objectives of the NDMA is proactive prevention of loss of life and property in disasters.
Even here the NDMA has failed miserably.