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Netagiri reduces Uttarakhand relief into a farce

June 28, 2013 08:20 IST

Why Uttarakhand relief descended into a farce

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Colonel (retd) Anil Athale

It seems that the government is deliberately playing down the role the armed forces have played in the relief of operations. Why is the state government reluctant to do so? Why is it also not ready to accept help from other states, asks Colonel (retd) Anil Athale.

The unprecedented floods in Uttarakhand are a major natural disaster that has tested the nation as never before.

But as usual, the ‘real’ story is lost in the noise. The floods that hit the area caused huge loss of life only in the Kedarnath valley. The crisis in Gangotri, Badrinath and Hemkund areas was essentially breakdown in road communications and people being stranded.

But what marks a new low in India, the administration and politicians’ war for credit.

Adding fuel to fire was our juvenile electronic media that rather than calm the nerves went to town by its usual hype of isolated cases of distress and people’s desperation to get home.

Seems the country has learnt nothing from the media circus and damage it caused during the terror attacks of 26/11 on Mumbai. At that time the live coverage helped the terrorists based in Pakistan to co-ordinate their moves.

This time around in area of natural disaster, by constantly harping on images of people wanting to leave the area, the media has successfully distorted the relief operations priorities.

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Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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Why Uttarakhand relief descended into a farce

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Though it is still not known what caused the crash of the Air Force MI 17 helicopter near Kedarnath, suffice it to say that the pressure exerted by the media coverage could well have distorted the decision making on the issue. Tragically, 20 brave rescuers paid the price.

In any such disaster the priorities are clear. Rescue of those in danger, relief to those who are stranded but not necessarily in danger and later on rehabilitation.

What the 24x7 media coverage has done is that it has excessively focussed on the rescue of those who are stranded but not necessarily in danger.

The relief in terms of food and medical aid is the priority in this case not evacuation. But the mindless electronic media by focussing on the people stranded at various places, has distorted the relief priorities.

But the biggest disaster has been the National Disaster Management Agency. It has neither the equipment nor the right personnel.

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Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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Why Uttarakhand relief descended into a farce

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With the multiple agencies like the army, the air force, ITBP and local administration involved in the relief operations, there is a need to co-ordinate the efforts, avoid duplication, lay down clear priorities and ensure total coverage of the area and all affected people.

This job is normally done by the agency that has the largest personnel and capability. Clearly in this case with over 6,000 soldiers involved, it would be the army.

The army in peace times has clear disaster relief plans for all areas and is equipped to set up and run a control centre. Yet it seems that the state govt has been reluctant to do this with a result the relief effort has suffered.

In place of co-ordination of effort what one is seeing is a political one up man ship. The ugly manifestation of this was seen when two Andhra Pradesh MPs came to blows at Dehradun airfield.

The state government also seems to suffer from ‘Namonia’ (the fear of Narendra Modi) and actually refused to accept the offer of additional helicopters. With such Netas even Gods seem to be angry with us. 

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Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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Why Uttarakhand relief descended into a farce

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Although the flood is a calamity of gigantic proportions and no country, even the rich and mighty United States, could have been prepared to deal with the human and material damage on this scale. To that extent one understands the lack of heavy equipment etc. But what is inexcusable and deplorable is that while relief goods pile up at Dehradun people go hungry or are without tents or blankets.

The reason this is happening is because there is no central coordinating authority. This is one job that the army is well equipped and trained to perform. 

In Uttarakhand, this has not happened so far simply because the civil administration seems to have refused to hand over the situation to the army.

With helicopters at their disposal, the armed forces could have in matter of days assessed the damage, established wireless communication with all affected habitations, established a control room and directed the stream of relief to various places.

It is a standard military practice to divide the affected area into sectors and delegate responsibility to various units who then carry on their job.

That this has apparently not happened is a great shame and shows the extent to which politicians can go to remain in 'control.' 

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Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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Once the immediate task is done, the armed forces would relinquish control to civil authority for the long term task of rehabilitation.

It seems that the government is deliberately playing down the role the armed forces have played in the relief of operations. Why is the state government reluctant to do so? Why is it also not ready to accept help from other states?

In all the concentration on the pilgrims and tourists, the plight of local people has been lost sight of. It is time that the countrymen come to their help like we all did for the earthquake victims in the past. It is hoped that the reconstruction that is sure to take place is done in a sensible manner keeping in view the sensitive ecology of the area.

Such is the strength of attraction to the ‘Dev Bhoomi’ (God’s land) that one is sure that in a year or two the area will be rehabilitated and welcome pilgrims again. 

Like the ancient faith that has survived for several thousand years, so will Uttarakhand. Indians may again surprise the world by our ability to bounce back. But for that to happen, can we forget party petty politics for some time...

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Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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