NDMA drill had exposed gaps in state’s disaster management plan

Uttarakhand government took no step to address shortcomings in three years

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Saturday 22 June 2013

Many buildings are still in danger of being washed away (Photograph: Sowmik Mukherjee)

A mock drill organised by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in May-June 2011 in three districts of Uttarakhand had raised many crucial questions. After the drill, that was conducted in Dehradun on May 27, Haridwar on May 30 and Tehri-Garhwal on June 1, many solutions were offered to reduce damage in the state in the event of a disaster. None were implemented. The report of this drill is not public yet.

An important observation following the drill noted the gaps in communication between government agencies in the event of collapsed roads and linkages. It also noted that the coordination between various agencies at state and district level was better than at the local level—tehsil, block or town. This, in effect, meant that practical implementation of disaster management would have gaping holes.

"We found that the communication failed due to damage to roads and the kind of terrain the state has, and that it is not possible to have alternate communication routes either," said Jyoti Kumar Sinha, member of NDMA. He said as nothing can be done to ensure that this communication does not break during natural calamities, NDMA made some suggestions.

Food shortages could have been averted

"There is one linear road which connects different villages in Uttarkashi and Chamoli. We suggested locations on roads should be identified where stock of food and supplies can be stored. Storage should also contain relief material for disaster situation," said Sinha. Though landslides have crippled the road, it is still usable, he said. At least the food shortage that many pilgrims are facing today in cut off areas could have been averted to an extent.

(NDMA was constituted under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 to draft policies and guidelines on disaster management, approve and coordinate the implementation of plans for disaster preparedness and management at the Central, state and ministerial levels. However, so far it has limited its role to only issuing guidelines. The state government has taken no measure so far to work on the solution. NDMA also did not ensure implementation resulting in disaster and death.)

Uttarakhand follows a “seven desk system” to deal with a disaster situation. Officers supervising seven areas—operations, logistics, communication, resources, health, services and infrastructure—sit together to make a plan and allot specific responsibilities for efficient management. This also reduces the possibility of gaps in operations due to misunderstanding among various agencies. The report said that  Haridwar's command, control and communication system is the best in India and can be emulated elsewhere.

No system in place below district level

However, the system works only till the district level. "But to control the disaster at the sub-divisional and tehsil level, no system is available," stated the report. It suggested the state to follow an “incidence response system” under which the sub-divisional officer or the block development officer or the tehsildar becomes the “incidence commander” during a major disaster. In this system, district magistrate coordinates activities of incidence commanders.

This system, along with the seven desk system, can increase efficiency of management and timely communication manifold, said another official of NDMA. The recommendation, as part of a general guideline for all the states, was issued in India in 2003-04. Most states, including Uttarakhand, are yet to implement it.


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