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The Rediff Special/George Iype
Tackling disasters: India pulls up its socks
December 26, 2005
A year after the tsunami waves killed thousands of people and displaced millions, the Indian government is finally getting its disaster management act together.
New Delhi is raising a special team -- the National Disaster Response Force -- to combat natural and man-made catastrophes such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, nuclear and even biological attacks.
Eight NDRF battalions will soon undergo training to be deployed in the event of a disaster. To begin with, each battalion will consist of 1,000 personnel.
India's four Central paramilitary forces -- the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police -- are sparing two battalions each for setting up the NDRF.
"Tackling disasters is a specialised job. We hope the new force will be of great help to people across the country when disasters occur unexpectedly," said K M Singh, former director general, CISF, who is a member of the National Disaster Management Authority, which was set up in August.
While the government has been mulling over the establishment of such a body for long, officials say the Mumbai floods that crippled India's financial capital forced the Central home ministry to act fast.
Soon after the July 26 floods, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh approved the constitution of the NDMA, which he will chair himself.
Apart from K M Singh and the prime minister, the other NDMA members are former Chief of Army Staff Gen N C Vij, former Indian Institute of Technology-Mumbai director and former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Professor S P Sukhatme, and former Andhra Pradesh minister for environment M Sashidhar Reddy.
The NDMA -- which is responsible for framing disaster management policies and plans -- has approved a National Disaster Management Plan. Earlier this month, the Parliament passed the Plan as a legislation.
Reddy said with the new legislation, the NDMA has become a full-fledged government authority with complete powers.
"India is a large country and prone to a number of natural hazards. Our task now is to ensure that the disasters should not kill people. That is a huge challenge," Reddy told rediff.com
He said according to the new law, every state government is duty-bound to set up a State Disaster Management Authority, and every district has to set up it own disaster management authority.
While the national and state authorities shall be responsible for laying down the policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management, the district authority will act as the planning, coordination and implementing body for all disaster management-related functions at its level.
These functions will include mitigation and preparedness measures, besides response, relief and rehabilitation.
Reddy said the unique point in the Plan is that a key role has been assigned to the local authority for ensuring training of its officers and employees, maintaining resources and ensuring that all construction projects in its area conform to the prescribed standards and specifications.
Some other salient features of the new Disaster Management Plan are:
Besides framing disaster management policies and plans, the NDMA will:
The first NDRF battalion, officials say, is going to be stationed in Pune, Maharashtra, to take care of Mumbai as well as other parts of the state.
The locations for the other seven battalions are: Greater Noida near Delhi, Arrankonam near Chennai, Barasat near Kolkata, Gandhinagar in Gujarat, Guwahati in Assam, Mundali in Orissa, and Chandigarh.
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