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UNVEILING THE GAPS: ANALYSING THE WEAKNESS IN INDIA’S DISASTER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

INTRODUCTION

The recent destruction brought about by cyclone ‘Biparjoy’ in the Gujarat state, mainly in the regions of Kutch and Saurashtra,[1] has sparked a heated public debate about India’s disaster redressal mechanism and its obviated shortcomings. This catastrophic event serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to re-evaluate and address the lacunae that exist within the country’s disaster management infrastructure. In India, the Disaster Management Act 2005 serves as the legal framework to address the challenges posed by natural and man-made disasters. In this blog, the author addresses the key issues and challenges faced by India’s disaster management system, explores the gaps that hinder timely response, surfs through the relevant provisions of the said act and analyses the effectiveness of the legal framework in managing and mitigating the impact of a disaster.

UNDERSTANDING THE DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT 2005

The Disaster Management Act 2005[2] was passed to establish a thorough legal framework and a comprehensive strategy for the disaster management system in India. It serves as a guiding light by outlining the roles, responsibilities and powers of various authorities involved in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Section 3[3] of the act establishes a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chaired by the ex officio Prime Minister of India and almost 9 other members nominated by him. While section 6[4] empowers the NDMA to lay down policies on disaster management and frame guidelines to be followed by different ministries and departments under the GOI and various states. The plan was to provide an overall central internal policy framework and an active authority to address the problem at hand.

The functioning process of the NDMA can be briefed as follows –

Expert Advisory Committee – The act allows the NDMA to constitute an advisory committee comprising experts from the field of disaster redressal who have practical experience at the national, state, or district levels to make informed recommendations on different aspects of disaster management.

Hierarchical Functioning – The DMA, 2005 emphasises a hierarchical setup for the proper functioning of the authorities. This involves setting up State Disaster Management Authorities[5] across various states and district disaster management authorities[6] at the district level. Such authorities are to be assisted by executive committees at the national and state levels. Such a specialised distribution of functioning roles ensures proper policy formulation, planning, coordination, and implementation of measures to mitigate the impact of disasters.

Disaster Response Force – Sections 44 and 45[7] of the act provide for a centralised national Disaster Response Force for the specialised and active response to a threatening disaster situation in the country. These forces have been an asset during several life-threatening cyclones in India, to name a few: Taukate (Gujrat, 2021), Yaas (Odisha, 2021), Mandous (Chennai, 2022), Asani (Karnataka, 2022) and other calamities like Kerala flood (2018), Uttarakhand cloudburst (2013) and so on.

CHALLENGES IN INDIA’S DISASTER REDRESSAL SYSTEM

Inadequate Early Warning System – One of the significant challenges faced by our disaster management system is the delay in danger alerts by the concerned authorities. Despite advanced technologies, such setbacks hamper the ability to alert and evacuate the communities at risk, leading to increased casualties and damage.

Inadequate infrastructure and resources – Lack of optimum level of infrastructure to minimise the damage caused by the disaster and saves the lives of the people has so far been a luxury in India. This includes a shortage of emergency shelters, medical facilities, and transportation capabilities making it challenging to provide immediate assistance to affected populations. Insufficient investment in disaster-resilient infrastructure further exacerbates the situation.

Fragmented coordination and communication – Although a proper hierarchical redressal system has been established under the Disaster Management Act, of 2005, there have been significant instances of delay in action by the authorities and gaps in the policies formalised by NDMA, showcasing the absence of timely and required level of coordination among the various stakeholders. This drawback can be attributed to the fragmented responsibilities, overlapping jurisdiction, and a lack of standardised protocols for information sharing.

Non-Obligatory Provisions in the DMA 2005 – Although the said act has been crucial in uplifting India’s scale of disaster management, several of the provisions are provided as only advisory in nature. To mention a few, the expert advisory committee and other sub-committees are optional under the act, this, in turn, withholds the proper implementation of the policies and in time redressal of the emergencies.

POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

Strengthening Early Warning Systems: Investments need to be made in technologically advanced early warning systems, such as weather forecasting technologies, remote sensing, and real-time data collection. In addition to this, efforts should be made to improve dissemination channels and ensure that warnings reach vulnerable areas in a timely and accessible manner, to take action on disaster management in advance.

Enhancing Preparedness and Training: Comprehensive training programs should be developed and implemented at different levels of the disaster management system. This may include equipping local authorities, community leaders, and citizens with the necessary knowledge and ‘how to’ skills to respond effectively during emergencies. Regular drills and exercises should be organised to identify gaps and improve preparedness.

Investing in Resilient Infrastructure: Central and state governments should prioritize investments in disaster-resilient infrastructure, including robust shelters, flood-resistant buildings, and reinforced transportation networks. This would not only help minimize damage but also enhance the infrastructural ability to provide immediate relief and support to affected communities.

Establishing Effective Coordination Mechanisms: Lack of timely communication has been a major setback in disaster management in India. This can be improved by a collaborative and systematic inter-authority communication system, achieved by the development of standard protocols, joint training exercises, and the use of advanced technology for on-time information sharing.

CONCLUSION

No doubt the disaster management Act 2005 serves as a crucial guiding light for the disaster management system in India. The various committees at different levels under the act provide for a comprehensive and holistic redressal of disaster situations. Although the system has proved helpful in times of need, it would not be wrong to say that it has its demerits. Addressing such setbacks is the need of the hour as the modern world is periodically triggered by natural and man-made calamities leading to large-scale devastation and loss of lives. A series of transformative steps need to be taken to cover such gaps and ensure the safety and well-being of the affected populations in these disasters.

Author(s) Name: Akshat Chandani (National Law Institute University, Bhopal)

Reference(s):

[1] ‘In the Aftermath of Cyclone Biparjoy, Gujarat Grapples with Destruction’ The Hindu (16 June 2023) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-the-aftermath-of-cyclone-biparjoy-gujarat-grapples-with-destruction/article66977196.ece> accessed 21 June 2023

[2] Ministry of Home Affairs, ‘The Disaster Management Act, 2005.Pdf’ <https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/The%20Disaster%20Management%20Act%2C%202005.pdf> accessed 21 June 2023

[3] Disaster Management Act 2005, s 3

[4] Disaster Management Act 2005, s 6

[5] Disaster Management Act 2005, s 14

[6] Disaster Management Act 2005, s 25

[7] Disaster Management Act 2005, s 44, s 45