(Sample Material) Gist of IIPA Journal: Natural Disaster Management in India Vinod K. Sharma

(Sample Material) Gist of Important Articles from IIPA Journal

Topic: Natural Disaster Management in India Vinod K. Sharma


India is a parliamentary democracy with a federal structure. An integrated disaster management mechanism exists within this government framework. The essential responsibility of disaster management lies with the State Government where the disaster has occurred. However, in the event of disasters which spread over several states and assume uncontrollable proportions, then the Central Government may be required to supplement appropriate measures in the fields of rescue, relief and preparedness. At the Central level, the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) oversees all disaster related efforts. The NCMC comprises the nodal Ministry and other support Ministries. For natural disasters, the nodal Ministry is Ministry of Agriculture.

In the past, the government response to natural disasters has improved in terms of its effectiveness. This is chiefly due to the emergence of well-organised administrative machinery, presence of Relief Manuals at district level, predetermined allocation of duties and recognised public-private partnerships. However, absence of an integrated policy at national level has led to overlooking of some of the vital aspects of disaster management. As such, presence of a policy helps clearly define the government’s basic approaches on a continuing basis. It provides for an appropriate legislation and associated regulations in this regard, besides an overall national competence and self reliance vis-a-vis international initiatives.

Administrative Structure at Central Level

In the federal set-up of India, the responsibility to formulate the Government’s response to a natural calamity is essentially that of the concerned State government. However, the Central Government, with its resources, physical and financial does provide the needed help and assistance to buttress relief efforts in the wake of major natural disasters. The dimensions of the response at the level of Central Government are determined in accordance with the existing policy of financing the relief expenditure and keeping in view the factors like: (1) the gravity of a natural calamity, (2) the scale of the relief operation necessary, and (3) the requirements of Central assistance for augmenting the financial resources at the disposal of the State Government.

Agriculture Ministry-The Nodal Agency

The Department of Agriculture and Co-operation (DAC) in the Agriculture Ministry is the nodal department for all matters concerning natural disasters relief at the Centre. The National Contingency Action Plan (CAP) facilitates launching of relief and rescue operations without delay. The CAP identifies initiatives required to be taken by various Central ministries, and Public departments in the wake of natural calamities, sets down procedures and determines the focal points in the administrative machinery.

In the DAC, the Relief Commissioner functions as the nodal officer to co-ordinate relief operations for all natural disasters. The Central Relief Commissioner receives information relating to forecast/warning of the natural calamity from the Director General, India Meteorological Department (IMD) or from the Central Water Commission on a continuing basis. Besides, he also monitors the developments taking place and provides the necessary feed-back, through the Agriculture Secretary to the Agriculture Minister, Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

Committees at National Level

Working of various other committees at the national level for disaster management is discussed in the following paras.

Cabinet Committee

The Cabinet may set up a committee for effective implementation of Relief measures in the wake of natural disaster. The Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture acts as the secretary of this committee. In the absence of such a committee, all matters related to the relief shall be reported to the Cabinet Secretary.

National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC)

Under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary, the NCMC has been constituted in the Cabinet Secretariat. The other members of this committee include the Secretary to Prime Minister, Secretaries of Ministry of Home Affairs, Defence, Research and Analysis Wing and Agriculture and Co-operation along with Director, Intelligence Bureau and an officer of Cabinet Secretariat. The NCMC gives direction to the crises management group as and when deemed necessary.

Crisis Management Group (CMG)

A group under the chairmanship of the Central Relief Commissioner, comprising senior officers drawn from various ministries and other concerned departments, reviews every year contingency plan formulated by Central Ministries/Departments. It reviews various measures required for dealing with a natural disaster, and co-ordinates activities of the Central ministries and the state governments pertaining to disaster preparedness and relief and obtains information from nodal officers on measures relating to the above. The Joint Secretary (NDM) and Additional Central Relief Commissioner is the convener of CMG. The CMG meet-s every six months.

Financial Arrangements

The Centre plays a major role as far as mobilisation of financial resources are concerned. The policy and arrangement for financing State Governments to provide relief and rehabilitation measures in areas affected by natural calamities are governed by the recommendations of the Finance Commissions on the subject made from time to time. The scheme in force for the period 1995-2000 is based on the recommendations of the Tenth Finance Commission. Under the present scheme, a Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) has been constituted for each State with contribution from the Central and state governments to undertake relief and rehabilitation measures. The annual allocations of the CRF to the various States are based on their trend of expenditure on natural calamities during the past ten years. The Central share of Calamity relief fund is released to the State Governments in four equal quarterly instalments. As recommended by the Tenth Finance Commission, a Committee of Experts and Representatives of the States has drawn up a list of items, expenditure on which alone will be chargeable to the CRF. A State Level Committee headed by the Chief Secretary decides the norms of assistance under each of the approved scheme. The norms so fixed could be modified by the Ministry of Agriculture, if these are significantly out of line.

In addition to the CRF, a National Fund for Calamity Relief (NFCR) has also been constituted to deal with calamities of rare severity. NFCR is available with the Government of India with an allocation of Rs. 700 crore for the period 1995-2000. The Fund is managed by the National Calamity Relief Committee, which is a Sub-Committee of the National Development Council, headed by the Union Agriculture Minister. In normal circumstances, the State Governments are required to undertake relief and rehabilitation measures utilising the annual CRF allocations. They can, however, seek additional assistance from the NFCR in the event of calamity of rare severity.

Administrative Structure at State Level

As pointed out earlier, the Central government only supplements the efforts of the State government. The State governments are autonomous in organising relief operations in the event of natural disaster and also long-term preparedness/rehabilitation measures.

The States have Relief Commissioners, who are in charge of the relief measures in the wake of natural disasters in their respective states. In the absence of the Relief Commissioner, the Chief Secretary or an officer nominated by him is in overall charge of the relief operations in the concerned State.

The Chief Secretary is the head of the State Administration. The State Headquarters has, in addition, a number of Secretaries who head the various Departments handling specific subjects under the overall supervision and co-ordination of the Chief Secretary. At the level of the State Government, natural disasters are usually the responsibility of the Revenue Department or the Relief Department. While important policy decisions are taken at the State Headquarters by the Cabinet of the State headed by the Chief Minister, day-to-day decisions involving policy matters are taken or exercised by the Secretary in the Department.

States Crisis Management Group

There is a State Crisis Management Group (SCMG) under the Chairmanship of Chief Secretary/Relief Commissioner of Chief Secretary/Relief Commissioner. This Group comprises Senior Officers from the Departments of revenue relief, home, civil supplies, power, irrigation, water supply, panchayat (local-self Government), agriculture, forests, rural development, health planning, public works and finance.

The SCMG is required to take into consideration the infrastructure and guidance received, from time to time, from Government of India and formulate action plans for dealing with different natural disasters.

It is also the duty of the Relief Commission of the State to establish an emergency operation centre as soon as a disaster situation develops. Besides having all updated information on forecasting and warning of disaster, the centre would a\so be the contact point for the various concerned agencies.

Administrative Structure at District Level

States are further divided into districts, each headed by the District Collector (also known as the District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner), who is the focal point at the district level for directing, supervising and monitoring relief measures for disaster and for preparation of district level plans.

The Collector exercises coordinating and supervisory powers over functionaries of all the departments at the District level. During actual operations for disaster mitigation or relief, the powers of the Collector are considerably enhanced, generally, by standing instructions or orders on the subject, or by specific Governments orders, if so required. Sometimes, the administrative culture of the concerned State permits, although informally, the Collector to exercise higher powers in emergency situations and the decisions are later ratified by the competent authority.

A District is sub-divided into sub-divisions and Tehsils or Talukas. The head of a sub-division is called the Sub-Division Officer (SDO) while the head of a Tehsil is generally known as the Tehsildar (Talukdar or Mamlatdar in some States). Contact with the individual villages is through the village Officer or Patwari who has one or more villages in his charge. When a disaster is apprehended, the entire machinery of the District, including officers of technical and other Departments, swings into action and maintains almost continuous contact with each village in the disaster threatened area. In the case of extensive disasters, like drought, contact is maintained over a short cycle of a few days.

The various measures undertaken by the District Administration area are discussed in the following paras.

Contingency Plans

At the district level, the disaster relief plans are prepared which provide for specific tasks and agencies for their implementation in respect of areas in relation to different types of disasters.

A contingency plan for the district for different disasters is drawn up by the Collector/Deputy Commissioner and approved by the State Government. The Collector/Deputy Commissioner also co-ordinates and secures the input from the local defence forces unit in preparation of the contingency plans. These contingency plans lay down specific action points, key personnel and contact points relating to all aspects.

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