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Dec 1 is disaster body's big day

November 28, 2006 13:50 IST

At 11 am on 1 December, the newly constituted National Disaster Management Agency will have its big "coming out" at Gurgaon's plush DT Mall.

Fire alarms in one of the mall's auditoriums will signal a simulated fire, to which will respond all of Gurgaon's public utilities, including fire, civil defence, police, and medical services.

The simulated accident will also draw in a battalion of the newly raised National Disaster Response Force. The exercise will be the culmination of several sessions of training.

Said KM Singh, member, NDMA, and in-charge of the NDRF,  "Gurgaon's an international city, with call-centres and MNC offices. We need to reassure these people over their safety concerns."

This will not be the first such exercise conducted by the NDMA. On October 5, a chemical disaster was simulated at the IPCL plant in Ghaziabad. That rehearsal, coordinated with the UP government, was low profile and went unannounced.

However, the exercise at DT Mall will be watched by the media, other malls and commercial complexes, and even a batch of Gurgaon's schoolchildren, to educate them on disaster response.

The NDMA has been set up under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005. It is chaired by the prime minister and functions under the vice-chairman, former army chief Gen Nirmal Chand Vij.

According to Gen Vij, the Gujarat earthquake of January 2001 and the tsunami disaster of December 2004 only triggered the creation of the NDMA.

India has long been a victim of cyclical natural disasters like floods and landslides.

"So far, India has dealt with disasters mainly at the level of providing relief. The NDMA takes a much more holistic view: prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, relief, and rehabilitation are the six important fronts for dealing with disasters," he said.

The Act also creates state disaster management authorities, headed by chief ministers. District magistrates will head district authorities, with a local body leader as the vice-chairman. So far, the states are playing ball.

Said Gen Vij, "Rather than waste large sums of money after a hazard has turned into a disaster, the states are cooperating on preventive measures. I've held meetings with ministers in 21 states and they are more than enthusiastic."

The NDRF has eight 1000-man battalions. The Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Central Industrial Security Force have agreed to provide two battalions each, which remain a part of the parent force.

The personnel are rotated through disaster management units, serving a five-year tenure after training. Each of these eight battalions has a specialised role, with two each focussing on flood relief, fire, cyclones, and industrial accidents, including nuclear and chemical disasters.

Also, private constructions such as malls and residential complexes will have to adhere to disaster regulations that could be finalised by mid-2007.

The Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended an initial corpus of Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) for the NDMA.

The cost of disaster-proofing all future public projects such as dams, power plants and flyovers will add an estimated 7 per cent to costs.
Ajai Shukla in Gurgaon
Source: