New Delhi, Sept. 20: A government-appointed task force has recommended downsizing of the Prime Minister-led National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and massive restructuring of the disaster management apparatus.
The six-member task force chaired by former agriculture secretary P.K. Mishra has said in its report that the government’s disaster management policy is “confused”. It has recommended change for the apex body in disaster management, the NDMA.
The NDMA, managed by nine members including vice-chairman Shashidhar Reddy, should have more teeth and responsibility, the report suggests. Currently, ministers of finance, which funds disaster management, or defence and home, the working arms of the body, are not part of the NDMA.
“The NDMA should not have more than four full-time members including the vice-chairperson; other members such as ministers of home affairs, defence, finance, agriculture, and urban development being ex-officio,” the report, a copy of which is with The Telegraph, states.
The task force was formed in 2011 to review the Disaster Management Act.
Mishra’s team also recommended “to discontinue” the Union home secretary-led National Executive Committee, created in 2005 to assist the NDMA. Its functions should be transferred to the NDMA while the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) should be brought under the Disaster Management Act.
Union home secretary Anil Goswami said the report was under examination and changes could be made only after inter-ministerial consultations.
The challenge before the government now is to decide if disaster management is a specialised subject or a responsibility that is for all ministries to be shared, a government official said.
Janki Andharia, a professor at the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management in Mumbai, feels the consciousness about disaster management that should run through everything — from building roads to construction of dams — is missing.
Currently, the NDMA is a recommendatory body that has many members working “part-time” and with little accountability. It is widely considered to be a centre for rehabilitating retired bureaucrats.
In the comptroller and auditor general’s first ever report on disaster preparedness, “critical gaps” were noted. “The NDMA conceived as an apex planning and supervising body was found ineffective in its functioning in most of the core areas,” the 2013 CAG report said.
In fact, the entire task of disaster reduction and mitigation along with response is being seen as unaccomplished seven years after the DM Act was passed in 2005.
“Much of what the Act mandates is yet to be realised. In most cases, the new entities have not made any appreciable impact; some are even non-functional. Further, institutional arrangements existing prior to the act continue to remain in force. Needless to say, all this has created a confusing scenario,” the task force report has said.
In Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, the administration could not get its act together for several weeks after the cloudburst, MHA officials admitted. “There is chaos for a couple of days in any disaster but here the state had problems for a month,” said Andharia.
NDMA member-secretary V.K Duggal was sent to Dehradun by Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde but the former home secretary did not stay put there to oversee affairs. He kept shuttling between Delhi and Dehradun. Besides, Duggal had sent his observations to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi but not to the nodal ministry for disaster management, the home department.
Old systems continue and new entities created after the DM Act remain non-functional causing confusion, the task force’s report said.
Before the DM Act, the cabinet secretary-led NCMC coordinated various ministries. A crisis management group headed by the central relief commissioner liased with state governments and a high-level committee took decisions on financial assistance to states in events of natural calamities.
Experts say these bodies should have been dissolved or roles redefined but pre-and post-DM Act entities continue to work together and no one is in charge really. Calling for ending such pandemonium the task force has recommended massive restructuring of DM mechanisms.