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Space for seven fresh faces in disaster cell

RK Singh, who is tipped to the next vice-chairman of the NDMA

New Delhi, July 13: The government has accepted the resignations of six members of the National Disaster Management Authority, clearing the way for seven fresh appointments to the body chaired by the Prime Minister.

The resignation of one member, former CBI officer Saleem Ali who was handling the controversial Ishrat Jahan case, was accepted earlier this month.

The six, whose resignations were accepted on Friday, had put in their papers last month but the home ministry asked them to continue. It left them in a post-resignation limbo, where they continued with their minister of state status but without work.

The only remaining member of the body — responsible for policy and guidelines to tackle natural or manmade disasters — is Muzaffar Ahmad, a former medical officer from Kashmir.

Ahmad, whose responsibilities cover medical preparedness, mass casualty management and chemical and industrial disaster management among others, is understood to have challenged the government’s wish to replace him.

The new members may be appointed soon. The buzz is that the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority’s Anil Sinha, an IAS officer, could be one of the choices.

Another choice could be Ranjit Banerjee, a former IAS officer who retired earlier this year as CEO of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority.

Last month, Union home secretary Anil Goswami had called up seven of the eight members and asked them to put in their papers following the change of guard at the Centre.

Six of the members, except Ahmad, resigned on June 19. However, the home ministry did not accept the resignations and asked the members to continue, although they were not allocated work.

Vice-chairman Shashidhar Reddy’s resignation was also accepted by the Prime Minister’s Office. R.K. Singh, a former home secretary and now BJP MP, is tipped to be the next vice-chairman, although the Prime Minister is yet to take the final call, sources said.

Most of the former members were retired IAS or IPS officers. One of them, V.K. Duggal, went on to become Manipur governor and was replaced by Ali. Now all eyes will be on whether the Narendra Modi government appoints experts in the field of disaster management or hands out sinecures to former bureaucrats. The new team is also likely to include at least some former bureaucrats or police officers with experience of handling operations during natural or manmade disasters.

A former IAS officer from Gujarat, P.K. Mishra, is believed to be playing a major role in shaping the Centre’s disaster management policy. Mishra, who headed a six-member task force on disaster management, is now additional principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

With the monsoon failing in many parts of the country and the threat of floods in some others, the role of the NDMA will be watched keenly.

The members whose resignations were accepted yesterday are K.M. Singh, J.K. Sinha, J.K. Bansal, B.B. Bhattacharjee, Harsh Gupta and K.N. Srivastava.