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Disaster management: India is not completely ready

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Disaster management: India is not completely ready
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Comptroller and Auditor General,Uttarakhand floods in 2013,Kashmir floods in 2014
Members of the National Disaster Response Force distribute food, water and medicines to flood victims at Alappuzha district, Kerala, August 20, 2018(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Floods are becoming a common phenomenon in India. Over the past few decades, areas facing recurring calamities have become relatively better prepared, with an increased understanding of the risks. This does not hold true for areas that have not experienced a major calamity in the recent past. Ignoring all the safety guidelines, dwellings, factories and infrastructure facilities have been constructed in areas that are potentially vulnerable to natural hazards like floods.

This year, Kerala received unprecedented rainfall, forcing the authorities to open the gates of all major dams, resulting in the worst flooding in 100 years, with 86% of the territory (12 out of 14 districts) affected. The floods in Kerala highlighted an emerging threat in the country: the danger from dams. A report published in 2017 by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) about India’s performance audit on flood control and management schemes categorically stated that only 7% of dams (349 out of 4,862) have Emergency Action Plans. Kerala has 44 rivers and 61 dams, but as per the CAG report none of these dams have Emergency Action Plans and Operation and Maintenance manuals. The audit also draws attention to the absence of flood forecasting systems in 15 states and Union Territories.

Until August 2016, only 5% dams (231 out of 4,862) had an operational maintenance manual. Various committees have been formed for flood management, such as the Rashtriya Barh Ayog. But their recommendations, with regards to identification of flood prone areas, have not yet been put into action.

After every disaster, its aftermath and adverse impacts raise a lot of questions about the status of preparedness. It is important to acknowledge that we are still not completely ready. This is because disaster management agencies continue to be reactive in their actions. Following the Uttarakhand floods in 2013 and Kashmir floods in 2014, it was only after a lot of questions were raised and criticism directed at preparedness practices that flood forecast stations were set-up in these two states. The same should have been done for all the flood prone states, but it seems that we did not learn from our mistakes. We continue to be reactive rather than focusing on preparedness.

The non-structural measures for flood forecasting — provide early warning in flood prone areas — have proved to be successful for flood management. However, for the early warning systems to be effective, continuous and collaborative efforts are required, rather than a one-time action. For instance, high-tech warning systems on the ground will not be useful until the authorities, key stakeholders and communities are trained to act upon the information obtained from these facilities. People affected by the Kerala floods reported that they had heard a faint announcement on the loudspeakers, but the message could not be heard clearly, so they were unsure about what it meant till the water entered their houses.

Different stakeholders need to come together for mapping risks, vulnerabilities, and resources; engage in regular preparedness actions like drills and capacity building; develop and update emergency plans; check the availability of resources at the local level; and act upon early warning intimations. While the government works towards strengthening systems and mechanisms for preparedness and response, civil society has a major role to play, at the community level, for disaster preparedness.

Disaster management plans exist on paper, but implementation remains a challenge. Despite the emphasis on a paradigm shift to a preparedness approach by the government, most parts of the country continue to follow a relief-centric approach in disaster management, rather than a proactive prevention, mitigation and preparedness path. There is a need for investing in disaster preparedness and mitigation across the country, irrespective of whether any state has been hit by a disaster or not. India needs to adopt a collaborative approach, where the roles of the government, corporations, academia, civil societies and communities are recognised, and all actors work hand-in-hand towards achieving disaster resilience.

Eilia Jafar is Head – Disaster Management Unit at CARE India.

The views expressed are personal

Disaster management: India is not completely ready

Kerala

Sabarimala protests: Arrests up to 2061, Kerala HC warns police

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Sabarimala protests: Arrests up to 2061, Kerala HC warns police

The police crackdown against the alleged protesters began two days ago in 482 cases registered across Kerala. Of the 2,061 arrested, 1500 were given bail, while around 500 people were remanded to judicial custody.

 

As the number of people arrested for allegedly being involved in violent agitations against the entry of women of all age at the Sabarimala temple increased to 2061, the Kerala High Court Friday asked the Kerala Police not to play to the gallery and warned of action if innocents were arrested.

The police crackdown against the alleged protesters began two days ago in 482 cases registered across Kerala. Of the 2,061 arrested, 1500 were given bail, while around 500 people were remanded to judicial custody.

Amid the arrests, the BJP in Kerala said the government action amounted to a “Hindu hunt’, while the Nair Service Society (NSS) likened it to the days of the Emergency. While the police aims to prevent more protests when the hill shrine opens for a two-month-long festival in November, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called a meeting of Devaswom ministers of the southern states on October 31.

Following a recent High Court order, which wanted the state government to levy damages caused to public property by agitators, the Kerala police have slapped stringent conditions for the bail of those in judicial custody. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), which had incurred a loss of Rs 1 crore during the agitation, wanted police to ensure that those involved in vandalising state buses pay the damages.

DGP Loknath Behera said police action against the agitators would continue. “The police have collected the details of those who have been involved in the violent protests. More arrests will be made after scrutinising the visuals of the agitators.’’ He also said that police would give security for women who wanted to visit the temple in the ensuing pilgrim season.

Two BJP activists Suresh Kumar and Anoj Kumar, from Pathanamthitta, have moved petitions in the HC that police are harassing and illegally arresting those who had participated in peaceful prayer meetings.

Sabarimala issue

The police action has irked the NSS, which has been supporting the CPI (M) government over the last two years, but locked horns with it over the Sabarimala issue.

While considering the pleas, a division bench of Justices P R Ramachandra Menon and Devan Ramachandran warned the police and said they would have to pay a heavy price if they resorted to arresting innocent persons. “Arrest should be made in the case of persons whose role in the incidents is confirmed. Police should not play to the gallery,” the bench said and asked the government to furnish an affidavit next Monday.

The police action has irked the NSS, which has been supporting the CPI (M) government over the last two years, but locked horns with it over the Sabarimala issue. NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair said the police action against devotees reminded him of the Emergency.

“The arrest of devotees is undemocratic and immoral. The government did not move a review petition against the SC verdict, but it also did not allow the Travancore Devaswom Board to file a review. The Chief Minister has insulted the temple supreme priest and the royal family of Pandalam. The faithful are hurt. The NSS will conduct prayer meetings in all its units on October 31,’’ he said.

BJP state general secretary M T Ramesh said the CPI (M) step back from the ongoing “Hindu hunt”. “Police have fabricated several faithful in cooked up cases. However, such cases will not deter our workers from the agitation,” he said.

According to Sabarimala Action Committee convener and VHP leader, S J R Kumar, the police action was intended to weaken the morale of the protesters. “Even if police arrest 10,000, thousands of other devotees are ready to sacrifice their life for protecting the sanctity of Sabarimala. We have taken all legal steps to ensure bail of the arrested. Our protest would be intensified when the temple is opened next month,’’ he said.

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Sabarimala Case: Kerala cracks down on Sabarimala protesters

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In the latest Sabarimala case the scenario is that a day after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan chaired a high-level meeting with senior police officials here, authorities on Thursday launched a crackdown on protesters who prevented women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala temple.

Police have arrested over 1,400 people across the state, registering 258 cases against 2,000 people for defying an order of the Supreme Court that had allowed women of all ages to visit the temple.

The police arrested people from Pathanamthitta – the district where the temple is located,Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Ernakulam and elsewhere.

The arrests came after Vijayan chaired a high-level meeting yesterday. The arrests had become a certainty after the police first released pictures of over 200 people who they thought were responsible for attacking the police, media and pilgrims.

The Supreme Court had on September 28 overturned a centuries-old practice that barred women of menstrual age (10-50 years) from entering the hill temple, where a celibate deity Lord Ayyappa is worshipped.

Kerala cracks down on Sabarimala protestersOn October 17, the temple opened at 5 p.m for the monthly pujas which ended on October 22. Protesters ensured that no female in the 10-50 age could make it to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

Kerala BJP President P.S. Sreedharan Pillai said that he would soon approach the High Court against the police action against the devotees.

“What’s happening now is false cases are being registered against the devotees who stood to protect the traditions of the temple. This is done purposely by the CPI-M to finish off this famed temple,” said Pillai.

Senior BJP leader and spokesperson A.N. Radhakrishnan said that they won’t be cowed down by the cases foisted on the devotees, and will take out a march to the Pathanamthitta police station on Friday.

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Kerala will bounce back in record time, says CM Pinarayi Vijayan

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Kerala will bounce back in record time, says CM Pinarayi Vijayan
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On, the task of rehabilitation and reconstruction, the Kerala chief minister said the world is about to witness one of the greatest comeback stories.

Pinarayi Vijayan,Kerala,Kerala flood
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan during an interview in New Delhi.(PTI File Photo)

Kerela’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has literally been in the eye of the storm for the past three weeks as his state recovers from its worst flood in a century. In the middle of the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction process, Vijayan spoke to Manoj Ramachandran about generating funds, foreign aid, dam management, the way forward, and the opportunity to build a new Kerala. Edited excerpts:

The daunting task of rehabilitation and reconstruction after the floods poses a huge challenge. The world is watching. Will you involve international agencies in the building of a new Kerala?

Kerala has put the worst behind it. This was the worst flood in a century. All but two districts in the state were severely affected. At its peak, more than 1.4 million people were in relief camps. The deluge has so far claimed more than 400 lives. The rains and the resultant floods have destroyed tens of thousands of homes. For the first time in history, almost all the major and minor dams in the state had to be opened. Rescue -- the first phase of disaster management -- has been completed. Efforts were taken to ensure that even the last stranded person was rescued. Rehabilitation is also progressing well. As per data on August 31, there are now only 28,000 people from 8,039 families in relief camps.

The people have shown great resilience during the time of crisis. Kerala has set an example for the world to emulate. We will bounce back in record time. The world is about to witness one of the greatest comeback stories. We will put to work the best ideas for our rebuilding efforts. If that requires the service of an international agency, we will seek it. Our aim is not merely a restoration of the state to pre-flood times, but the creation of a new Kerala. We have already decided to engage KPMG to appoint as partner -consultant for the rebuilding. It has offered its services free of cost and we accepted it.

You have said that the estimated loss is much more than Rs 20,000 crores, as projected earlier. With the National Democratic Alliance government announcing Rs 600 crores in aid, how are you looking to generate the money needed?

That amount of Rs 20,000 crore was based on a rapid preliminary assessment before August 17. If we take into account the loss of houses, crops, buildings, roads, bridges, cattle stock, poultry, electricity installations and water supply plants, the actual loss would be manifold. It would surpass the size of the annual plan of the state. We believe that the Rs 600 crore announced was an immediate measure and expect more in aid from the Union government. I have personally briefed both the Prime Minister and the home minster about the grave situation. I want to believe that the Centre has understood the gravity. I did make it clear many a time that the situation warranted unity in action. Of course , the Centre will have to extend all possible assistance considering the situation. We will soon submit a detailed report of the losses.

At the same time, I want to underline the aspect of resilience of our state. The rebuilding of Kerala is not going to suffer from shortage of money. Kerala’s strength is not the size of its state exchequer, but it is the support of Malayalis from all over the world and others who love Kerala. There is support flowing in from every nook and corner of the world. Kerala has always evoked the curiosity of the world at large. We have contributed immensely in enriching such ideals which an egalitarian world would cherish to uphold. With the cooperation from all, we will surmount the challenges.

You have made a request to Malayalis across the world to give one months’ salary to raise funds. How has it been received?

My intention was to ensure the larger participation of all. As you can very well understand, it would be difficult for a salaried employee to contribute his or her monthly salary at a go. I suggested that one may contribute the salary of three days’ each for 10 months. There has been tremendous response to this. Many sections have voluntarily come forward to contribute. Some people even went beyond. I am sure many will follow the call in the coming days.

There are suggestions that there must be transparency in relief funds and letting the public know of the expenditure involved. What steps do you intend to take towards it?

Kerala has little tolerance for corruption. We have also made our governance as transparent as much as possible. We have been constantly updating our fund collection records. We put out data on a day-to-day basis. And there are well-established procedures in spending the money. If it is required to bring in more provisions, we will not hesitate. We will update the public on regular intervals the developmental activities carried out with those funds.

Kerala was hailed for the coordinated relief and rescue work by locals, fishermen, young people and politicians working in a bipartisan manner. Now that the worst is over, Opposition parties allege that the government with allegations of mismanagement of the situation and the relief camps.

Kerala has set an example to the world as such how a calamity needs to be faced. During the hour of crisis, we demonstrated unity of action. All sections, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, gender, politics and profession worked together to pull up the state. Various central agencies also pitched in wholeheartedly. You would have seen the way the state expressed its gratitude to different sections.

The fact that the Opposition is back in attack mode is proof of the return of normalcy in the state. It is not because of any particular fallout. It is politics as usual. Come another crisis, we will get the bipartisanship mode back.

But your government has been criticised on the dam management front. Will there be any audit on its functioning?

We have an efficient dam authority under the chairmanship of retired justice CN Ramachandran Nair. All positive suggestions to improve its operations will be considered. However, there will not be any review based on allegations of shortfalls in dam management. One has to realise that the state experienced heavy rainfall, which led to the filling of dams. However, we will definitely conduct a study on how to manage dams during crisis like this in the future.

A war of words is playing out with the Centre on the supposed offer of the Rs 700 crore aid by United Arab Emirates and help from Thailand. The UAE ambassador to India has said that no official aid has been communicated so far. How does Kerala plan to take on this issue with the Centre?

UAE has formally conveyed their interest in assisting Kerala. In fact, I understand that this was conveyed to the Prime Minister. It is an undisputable fact. However, it is for the Centre to take a decision on accepting the UAE aid. I believe that the Union government will take a positive stance and support Kerala at these difficult times. UAE has talked about the contribution of Indians, especially Malayali diaspora, in their nation-building. I don’t want to discuss this topic any further as our position has been put across without any ambiguity.

Has the Centre short-fused Kerala as it is governed by the Left Democratic Front and not by a like-minded party?

Kerala has been one of the most vocal voices of federalism, and it will remain so. The question of which party is ruling at the Centre or state should be insignificant on matters of disaster management. The stance of Union government has been very positive during the calamity and I have personally appreciated it. We are in constant touch with Centre on this issue.

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been trading charges over the release of water from the Mullaperiyar Dam. Did TN turn a deaf ear to the request to not release water from the dam?

There were some issues regarding the management of Mullaperiyar dam. We have raised our concerns. However, Tamil Nadu and Kerala share a deep friendship, so these issues will be resolved in an amicable way. During the crisis, the people of TN and its government supported Kerala in a big way.

Do you attribute to the recent tragedy to the lack of proper dam management or the heavy downpour that the state witnessed, or was it a combination of both the factors?

People who blame the management of the dams are obfuscating. The floods were a result of the unprecedented, extreme and severe rains. It was further aggravated by the three-day storm in the second week of August. Almost all rivers were overflowing. In fact, proper dam management helped to prevent a bigger catastrophe. There is no ambiguity on this, science and data are clear.

Kerala’s youth have shown courage and poured out to help the needy. How do you intend to harness their skills, ideas and minds in Kerala’s reconstruction?

Kerala’s inclusive model has helped the state attain high levels of human development indices at par with the developed world. These gains are not going to get washed away in one flood. At present, the mood in Kerala is not what one normally expect from a state affected by a disaster of this scale. There is lot sorrow for the lost ones, despair over the losses, but hopes and aspirations are also high.

There is a saying, in every crisis also lies an opportunity. The crisis has instilled new vigour and vitality that we can build a new trajectory. It is not just the youth, but the people of Kerala as a whole have committed to the rebuilding of state. One of the most memorable images from the flood affected areas include that of a 73-year-old lady who has lost everything but is not willing to be defeated, she promises that she will fight back and will win everything she has lost. There are many like her and they will ensure that Kerala will sail through its present difficulties.

We are a now months away from the General Elections. Will a Federal Front be a reality? Do you think that such a political grouping will be able to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA?

This is not the right time to discuss a Federal Front. The CPI(M) -- Communist Party of India - Marxist -- believes that there is no need for a Federal Front now. A decision for a larger national alliance rises only after elections. Such formations have taken place in the past and there will be more like them in the future. The CPI(M) is committed to removing the BJP from the Centre. The BJP is following and implementing policies detrimental for the country. Their policies are only an extension of those followed by the Congress.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan during an interview in New Delhi.(PTI File Photo) Kerela’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has literally been in the eye of […]

Kerala will bounce back in record time, says CM Pinarayi Vijayan

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