Can we manage disasters?

State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) is supposed to jump into the fray whenever a natural calamity or man-made disaster befalls any part of the State. The disastrous floods of 2014 exposed this organization fully because its total failure to cope with the situation then was highlighted by the media and that generated great resentment against the Government for not keeping the organization trim to deliver whenever called upon. That flood was also a lesson for the Government that it cannot remain complacent about tragedies and disasters happening at any time without notice.
It is well known to geologists that the State of Jammu and Kashmir is situated along the seismic line. Earthquakes have been frequent in the annals of the history of our State. Our histories are replete with account about earthquakes and the disaster it brought in its trail. In the same way, parts of our State, especially the low lying areas, are prone to floods during monsoon season. We have also graphic stories about the destruction caused by the rising waters overflowing the banks. 2014 flood memories are still fresh.
In the background of this, we expect that the State Government will gear up itself to face the challenge of natural or man-made disaster at any time and any season. Death keeps no calendar, goes the saying. On August last, a meeting of State Disaster Management Authority, headed by the Chief Minister in her capacity as the Chairperson of the Authority was convened. It was revealed that the Authority was not functioning as it should be and there was much to be done to make it really functional. In the meeting the Chief Minister issued some instructions which were aimed at streamlining the Authority. It was proposed that a sum of rupees one crore would be placed at the disposal of each Deputy Commissioner as District Disaster Mitigation Fund for meeting any unpredicted calamity in the jurisdiction under him. This was a good idea but within a month or two, the Government vacillated and reduced it to Rs 15 lakhs. In another whimsical decision, the Government withdrew the amount and not a single penny was provided to the District administration for meeting unexpected disaster in the district concerned. Why the Government backtracked on the issue remains a mystery. There is no doubt that whenever a disaster happens the district authority is the first that comes to know about it and as such has to be the pioneering agency to unfold rescue operation and safety measures. Now at the fag end of the current financial year Rs 58 lakh has been placed at the disposal of each DC.
What is more disappointing is that some of the Government Departments that are directly concerned with disaster management were asked in the August 2017 meeting to prepare risk assessment reports. But none of the concerned departments has sent in any risk assessment report till date. The risk assessment report from the Health Department, for example, is of considerable importance because a heavy responsibility devolves on Health Department whenever a disaster happens. Non-seriousness of the Health Department in this context is of the extent that when contacted the Health authorities expressed ignorance about the entire risk assessment plan. Actually, there is no liaison between the Disaster Management Authority and the relevant departments on the issue of management of disasters in the State. PDD and R&B Department have made no discernible progress in the tasks assigned to them.
All this shows that there are serious flaws in the administration that put a spoke in the wheel of movement forward. Disasters like floods and earthquake keep no calendar. Fires are too common and landslides and blockade of water bodies has been reported so often. Whenever these calamities happen, the Government will be caught unawares in a situation of unpreparedness, and then in great melee ensuing from a disaster, accusations and counter accusations flow freely. We would like to emphasise upon the administration to take disaster management a serious responsibility and equip the State Disaster Management Authority with all necessary paraphernalia so that it is not caught on the wrong foot at the time of need.