September 8, 2010

Managed Disaster

For many years most of us looked around and wondered ‘what’ was happening around us. Then a man named Dr. Manmohan Singh, economist par excellence, liberalized our economy and for many moons we stopped bothering about everything else and sipped Coca Cola! Two decades later we started asking a new question as we looked around; we knew that the ‘what’ was non-sense and now we were intrigued to know why this all pervasive non-sense is happening?

Sadly I offer no solution. Yet.

We have become so used to things happening in triplicate around us that nothing is blessed with singular objectivity anymore in India. The sheer duplicity of command and execution has become so incestuous that Bold and the Beautiful looks like a fairy tale now. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) lays a sidewalk in Connaught Place and a few days later MTNL will have a go at it in the name of some cable work. No one knows who is supposed to do what. But that doesn’t trouble anyone in any place of authority. All functionaries of government of India might not know what to do but in strange unison they all are fully aware of what they aren’t supposed to do.

Take the case of National Disaster Management Authority of India (NDMA). By the sheer definitionit would be clear that they are manage disaster. A look at their website confirms that have been ultra busy in devising action plans when it comes to dealing with any kind of calamity- natural or man made. They have formulated guidelines for Biological Disaster, Chemical (Terrorism) and (Industrial) Disaster, Plan to counter threats to Municipal Water Supply and Water Reservoirs, Strengthening of Safety and Security for Transportation of POL tankers, Incident Response System, Nuclear Disaster, UNDP Disaster Risk Reduction, Medical Preparedness aspects, Psycho-Social Support, Civil Defence Disaster and much more. All this good work has been done by them in the last nine months and it would be safe to say that they seem to be well equipped for a broad range of things that could go wrong.

But what about things that are actually messed up as of right now?

If the government of India is digging into my pockets and funding something called National Disaster Management Authority then why the hell is the Army being called in deal with the floodedCommonwealth Games Village? Created by a Special Act and headed by the Prime Minister, NDMA was established to deal with just this kind of disaster but according to Kiran Walia, the Health Minister of Delhi, the Army has been approached to drain the collected rainwater as other civic authorities have given up. She mulled that the Army was approached, ‘because they are far better equipped to manage flood-like situations.’

Hmm, did I miss the point? If the situation is 'flood like' then how come NDMA is not putting it’s fighting tights on? So while a General Officer Commanding of Indian Army’s Northern Command would be doing something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place or something that NDMC or MCD (why, they even sound same!) should be perfectly proficient to deal, we will never know why the NDMA wasn’t approached.*

A lot of people have often wondered where this country would be if not for the Army or Defence Forces. Remember the time when little Indian Prince and Princess fell into open borewells, it was the Army's Safest Hands that saved the day. Now why would you want to waste money and resources on making the road most frequented safer for the future of India when you have the Army on the beck and call; Prince fell into a 53 feet deep hole in 2005 and in 2010 a girl plummeted into a 200 feet deep borewell! (Just have a look at the related stories section to see the sheer number of such incidents).

The government has sanctioned 46 crores for NDMA (50% of expenditure on disaster management programs, see page 50), which might be pittance compared to the disasters we deal with, and yet no one knows of them? Surely Kiran Walia and Delhi Government or the haloed CWG Organizing Committee doesn’t. But ask the same government to put One Rank One Pension in practice and all Defence Minister Anthony can do is look elsewhere but not before uttering, "At this time we cannot implement one-rank one-pension, but we are nearing the goal. It is a long process."

I don’t know about us but it's only the NDMA that feels safer with NDMA around. No else one seems to have any confidence in their disaster fighting capacity and like always people will some how manage.

Yet the ticking doomsday clock doesn’t worry NDMA.


Just like every sarkari organization they still feel the world functions as per the Indian Standard Time!

* FYI # 1- It’s not like the MCD hasn’t done anything for the collected rainwater in the CWG Village. It has duly fined the Village several times for mosquito-breeding.

When they realized that this is mosquitoes wouldn’t share Incredible India's sentiments of Atithi Devo Bhava, MCD’s health committee released gambusia fish in the water body to curb mosquito breeding. In a rare act of coordinated effort the gambusia fish was procured from National Centre for Disease Control's hatchery in Delhi.

MCD’s health committee is now happy to inform us that “the breeding in the pond has reduced considerably. The water body is huge and anti-larval medicines are not very effective.

**FYI # 2- NDMA has decided to use David Bowie's 'Putting Out Fire With Gasoline' as their new theme song. They might not be accepted but at least they will look cool.

Images- Vikrant Parikh via News, Views and Analysis

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