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Is Disaster Management Authority unprepared to handle disasters?

The last time the committee, headed by CM, met was after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, to assess the safety of nuclear installations in the state; it hasn’t even met after Wednesday’s landslide in Malin village near Pune

If a one-word exclamation could sum up the state government’s attitude to disasters and their management, it would have to be ‘Oops!’

Also read: Landslide prone areas not under us, says the BMC

National Disaster Response Force personnel recover the body of a landslide victim amid heavy rain at the site in Malin village in Pune district. Pic/AFP
National Disaster Response Force personnel recover the body of a landslide victim amid heavy rain at the site in Malin village in Pune district. Pic/AFP

For, members of the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) tell mid-day, disaster prevention is not very high on the current Democratic Front government’s priority list, and neither is putting the right processes in place to rescue people after disaster strikes.

The first rescue team reached Malin village five hours after the landslide on Wednesday. Pic/Nitin Lawate
The first rescue team reached Malin village five hours after the landslide on Wednesday. Pic/Nitin Lawate

The CM-headed committee has, in fact, allegedly not met for a full three years. Its last meeting, government sources say, was after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in faraway Japan, to assess the safety of nuclear installations in the state, and it hasn’t even met after Wednesday’s landslide in Malin Village near Pune, which left nearly 160 people trapped and 35 dead.

The ongoing rescue operations in Malin have lent credence to the authority members’ claims. As reported in this newspaper, the first rescue team did not reach the spot till nearly five hours after the landslide. All communications were cut off and people from surrounding areas also thronged the site, making it difficult for rescue teams to carry out their job. The rescue operations have been hobbling along at a snail’s pace because of these shortcomings, as well as natural causes.

Top body
The SDMA comprises top-ranking officers from the state, those posted in central government establishments in Mumbai, and non-official expert members. Atul Deulgaonkar, an expert on environment science, and a member of the SDMA, said, “The current government under CM Prithviraj Chavan is not serious about disaster prevention and mitigation.”

Sources said the state government has done little on capacity building for disaster response aimed at training people and creating awareness despite the July 26 floods happening under its watch. “The central government, as recommended by the 13th Finance Commission, allocates R5 crore each year to carry out the training and awareness programme but we have hardly even touched the amount in the last few years,” said a senior official.

Also read: Pune landslide - 25 dead, 160 still trapped under debris

“The state government has no plan for training people to tackle disasters. It has no interest in such issues and there was no response to two different presentations I made before the CM. Even when the forum of environmental journalists expressed a desire to conduct a workshop for our legislators, there was no response from the state,” added Deulgaonkar.

Allegations
>> SDMA has not met for three years
>> No serious efforts are being made on capacity building and disaster response.
>> The provisions made in Section 17 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, have been disregarded and a state advisory committee has not been constituted. An expert has also not been appointed.
>> Sub-committees on different issues for mitigation measures, as specified under Section 21 of the Act have not been constituted.

The other side
I A Kundan, state director of the disaster management unit, which comes under the relief and rehabilitation department, refuted the claims. “The meetings happen periodically and we invite non-official members, but they scarcely show interest,” she said. Asked about Deulgaonkar’s allegations, she said the concerned member was invited for a few meetings but he didn’t turn up. “More than the SDMA, the executive committee of the SDMA, headed by the state chief secretary meets quite often,” she said.

On capacity building measures, Kundan said the state was getting funds on a regular basis. “We have submitted utilisation certificates for Rs 10 crore to the Centre and have allocated the amount to various districts. Not just that, the control room set up by us has at least three consultants working around the clock to suggest measures in the event of any problems,” she said.

Rs 5crore: The amount allocated by the Centre to the state every year for disaster response training and awareness, which allegedly remains untouched

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