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NDMA: role and function by Lt Gen V K Jetley

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Author: Lt Gen (Retd) V K Jetley

India has its fair share of natural and man-made disasters. It is just six years since the National Disaster Management Authority was created and going by the machinery and equipment it has acquired, it is capable of pre-empting some categories of disasters.

Yet in a nation of the sub-continental size of India, the NDMA will need to expand the coverage of the National Disaster Response Force well beyond the ten that have been sanctioned because spreading it thin could be counter-productive.

Since time immemorial the Indian sub-continent has been unpropitious to be plagued by natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, avalanches, floods, droughts, cyclones, forest fires, river erosions, you name it and we have experienced them all. NDMA role and functionAnd, as if the wrath of nature was not bad enough, we have experienced a fair share of man-made disasters as well like chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear disasters, cyber-terrorism, mine disasters and environmental disasters. One of the worst man-made disasters experienced in our country was the Bhopal gas tragedy which occurred on the night of 2/3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. It is categorised as one of the world’s worst industrial catastrophes.

The threat of a disaster happening has always been around us, hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles, yet our reactions have mostly been knee-jerk, reactive and focused on providing relief after being struck by a disaster rather than by being proactive. It was therefore high time for us as a nation to wake up to the crying need of the hour. With the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in 2005, a paradigm shift took place in the handling of disasters. A proactive, holistic and integrated action plan was drawn up which emphasised the importance of prevention of disasters where possible, mitigation where unavoidable and preparedness for handling the same. The aim being to conserve developmental gains, minimise the loss of life, livelihood and property.


National vision and strategy

Vision: To build a safe and disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, pro-active, multi-disaster and technology-driven strategy through a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and efficient response.

Basically the strategy is multi-dimensional and holistic focusing on two broad phases viz. pre-disaster phase and the post-disaster phase. In the pre-disaster phase, emphasis is laid on prevention, mitigation, preparedness, capacity building and community based disaster management (including public awareness). In the post-disaster phase emphasis is laid on prompt and quick response, speedy reconstruction and rapid rehabilitation. Post the triple tragedy of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that struck the Japanese mainland recently, the world witnessed what was meant by a holistic and integrated approach towards disaster management.

Creation of NDMA

The need for creating an organisation for handling disasters, which hit the Indian sub-continent with striking regularity, was felt for quite some time. That was why a National Centre for Disaster Management was established in 1995 in the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the then nodal ministry for disaster management in the country. This centre later became the NIDM. The responsibility for handling disasters remained with the Ministry of Agriculture till 2001. However, in August 1999, the government of India set up a High Powered Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. J. C. Pant. This was just prior to the devastating cyclone in Orissa. This committee recommended the setting up of a Disaster Management Ministry, but this did not fructify in the form recommended. Thereafter in February 2001, just after the Gujarat earthquake, an All Party National Committee on Disaster Management was set up under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. This committee recommended the creation of the NDMA under the MHA and therefore in June 2002, in deference to the recommendations of this committee, the responsibility of handling Disaster Management was transferred to the MHA and the Disaster Management Act was passed in December 2005.

Disaster Management Act

By the enactment of the Disaster Management Act 2005 (DMA), government of India ordered the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) as opposed to creating a separate ministry recommended by the Pant committee. The importance that the government gave to this newly created body can be adjudged by the fact that the NDMA is chaired by the Prime Minister himself, with a Vice Chairman of the status of Cabinet Minister and 8 members of the status of Ministers of State. The Vice Chairman and the members are charged with the responsibility of running the day to day functions of the NDMA.

The salient features of the DMA were that it was a proactive, holistic and integrated approach as opposed to a reactive one. It had the legal authority to respond and take action as demanded by the situation and was backed by an institutional framework. And, last but not the least, it had what its predecessor organisations did not have viz. financial support by the creation of a Response Fund and a Mitigation Fund.

Disaster management structure

The disaster management set up was structured at three levels viz. national, state and district. The NDMA was set up as the apex body at the national level, while at the state level State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMA) were set up. These were headed by the Chief Ministers.NDMA structure At the district level District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA) were set up. These were headed by the District Collectors and co-chaired by elected representatives of the local authorities. All these authorities were charged with the responsibility of formulating holistic and integrated plans for disaster management and ensuring the implementation of these plans when required.
The executive committee of the NDMA is called National Executive Committee (NEC). It coordinates the response on behalf of the NDMA. It consists of 14 Secretaries of the government of India as well as the Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff. To assist the NDMA two other bodies have been created called the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). The structure of the NDMA, evolved for disaster management at the national level, is shown diagrammatically above.

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