As the tragedy of the flash flood and landslides continues to unfold in Uttarakhand, people in the state have inevitably begun to ask, why the Central Government announced huge sums of Rs 1,000 crore after so many lives were lost. Why the same government had refused assistance in 2011 when the state needed to build infrastructure to deal with natural calamities in the aftermath of massive flash floods in 2010?
An official said 233 villages and over 200 lives were lost in the tragedy in 2010 but the Centre’s response was callous. The total financial assistance was meagre Rs 500 crore against requested Rs 21,000 crore to build the infrastructure to deal with natural calamities.
The money that is being pumped-in by the Centre to tackle recent tragedy could have at least prepared it to deal with the catastrophe and to launch state driven rescue operations, to address health and medical issues and communications which were noticeably poor due to lack of infrastructure.
“The state has only 2 helicopters and not a single dedicated battalion for rescue operation. Even providing medical help to stranded people is difficult because more than 50 per cent sanctioned post of doctors are vacant in hill districts,” officials said.
According to state government data, only 573 doctors in the last one decade joined the government hospital in higher regions due to inhospitable terrain. The state had requested concession in recruitment norms by offering special packages for doctors, but the Centre is yet to take a decision.
Nearly two years after the major tragedy in 2010 the CAG concluded that state-wide response plans for major calamities are antiquated and often uncoordinated. Although emergency plans of parent body National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) appear to be stronger, on the ground the effectiveness of NDMA remain an area of concern.
Before cloudburst and flash flood wreaked havoc in Uttarakhand on June 16, the Meteorological Department had warned heavy rainfall in Rudraprayag region, yet the disaster management agencies made little effort to prepare. The lack of coordination with states prone to natural calamities makes the quick response in such a situation difficult. India’s most hi tech communication lab Defence Electronics Application Laboratory (DEAL) is in Dehradun, but even after almost 6 days of tragedy, government failed to take assistance of DEAL to establish communication in far flung areas for rescue operation.
“The celebrated lab has all weather adoptive communication. Instead of tasking BSNL or ITBP to do the job they should have deployed DEAL to help find stranded people as communication is the key in disaster situation like this,” an official said.
For the civilians who were caught in the aftermath of the cloudburst, the landslides and flash flood were a lesson in the inadequacy of the state and the Centre that failed to respond united in a timely manner during the time of desperate need.