The Telegraph
Saturday , January 4 , 2014
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Let the disastrous truth sink in

Cut out the word management from the state disaster management department.

The absence of government divers near waterfalls, rivers, lakes and dams — all popular picnic spots — is proving to be a fatal oversight of the department, which even lacks the mandatory State Disaster Response Force to attend to exigencies.

Two days after a youth was feared drowned in Dassam Falls on January 1, Ranchi district administration has not yet succeeded in fishing out the body.

Officials, claiming that nearby Bundu village divers had on Friday jacked up their rates to Rs 30,000 for the job, called the demand “inhuman” and “uncalled for”. District officials and state tourism department called an “expert diver” from Jamshedpur this morning, one Gurmeet Singh, who said he would do the job for free.

In a similar tragedy on December 25, when a 16-year old student from Hazaribagh drowned in Dassam, his decomposed body was fished out two days later by divers of Pansakam village under Chirgu panchayat. They charged Rs 11,000 for the job.

Why Jharkhand, with popular water bodies with the potential to turn into watery graves for tourists and bathers, does not have a dedicated force of trained divers is a mystery.

Bundu SDPO Ram Sewak Rai, who had to bear the brunt of regular deaths at Dassam Falls, nailed the need when he said: “Drowning deaths at Dassam give us a tough time as we have to negotiate with villagers who are prepared to dive and fish out the victims. It is high time the government has its own fleet of divers whom we can call anytime from any part of the state.”

The state disaster management department, which made loud noises last year, calling Uttarakhand’s cloudburst and floods an “eye-opener”, has continued to cite funds crunch and lack of concrete proposals to start its own divers’ squad.

Be it the December 15 Ranchi Lake boat tragedy, Christmas drowning deaths in Tilaiya Dam and Dassam Falls, the repercussions due to lack of dedicated divers proved fatal.

After every drowning incident, hunting for divers and getting into a lengthy bargaining process on their fees made every human tragedy a farce.

“In the Ranchi Lake tragedy, Pahari Tola resident Abdul Manan’s body was brought out hours after the boat capsize as we didn’t find divers on the spot. Local people did all they could,” a district administration official said, refusing to be named.

Officials who came on record sounded eerily similar.

When contacted, Arun Kumar Singh, principal secretary of state disaster management department, said: “I am aware of the recent tragedies. Once the State Disaster Response Force, which is hanging in balance for the last three-four years, gets constituted, we hope to tackle emergencies in a better way.”

But on a deadline, Singh stayed mum.

However, the much-hyped disaster response force — on the lines of the elite National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) — will not guarantee much headway in individual drowning deaths.

Personnel from its battalions will be deployed only in cases of mass-scale emergency situations such as fires, floods, earthquakes and landslides.

On the efforts for individual rescues and recoveries, Ranchi district additional collector Virendra Kumar, who takes care of district disaster management work, said: “A few years ago, we tried to recruit divers on contract but didn’t get proper hands. Then, nothing much happened.”

“We feel bad (about the lack of the diving squad in the state) but we honestly don’t have funds earmarked for drowning incidents. Ideally, at the state or district level, dedicated divers are a must, especially in a state like Jharkhand that has many water bodies popular with tourists,” said Jaishree Jha, joint secretary of the disaster management department.

On why the department couldn’t initiate remedial action, Jha said: “We can’t work on a suo motu basis. Drowning, lightning and elephant deaths aren’t included in the central list of disasters. I have pressed the home ministry to at least include lightning in the list.”

Interestingly, even the file of the hyped State Disaster Response Force was lost and then found.

“In the fag end of December, I traced the file in the home department,” Jha said.