As the tragedy of the flash flood and landslides unfolds in Uttarakhand, questions are being asked. Why did the Centre announce Rs 1,000 crore relief? Why did the same government refuse Central assistance in 2011 when the state needed to build infrastructure in the aftermath of the 2010 flash floods?
Officials 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 Rs 500 crore against the `21,000 crore requested. The money that is being pumped in by the Centre now could have prepared the state to deal with the catastrophe and to launch state-driven rescue operations, address health and medical issues and communications which were noticeably poor. “The state has only two helicopters and not a single dedicated battalion for rescue operations. Even providing medical help to stranded people is difficult because more than 50 per cent sanctioned post of doctors are vacant in hill districts,” an official said
According to state government data, only 573 doctors joined the government hospital in higher regions due to inhospitable terrain in the last decade. The state requested concession in recruitment norms by offering special packages for doctors but the Centre is yet to take a decision. In fact, 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.
Before the cloudburst and flash floods wreaked havoc on June 16, the Indian Meteorological Department had warned very heavy rainfall in Rudraprayag, yet the disaster management agencies made little effort to prepare. The lack of coordination in states prone to natural calamities makes quick response in such a situation nearly impossible. India’s most hi-tech communication lab Defence Electronics Application Laboratory (DEAL) is in Dehradun but even after six days of the tragedy, the government failed to take assistance of DEAL to establish communication.
“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,” an official said. Interestingly, officials and politicians appearing on TV giving expert opinion failed to evolve action plan for flood management in the country in the last four years when the task was forwarded to the water resources ministry.
“The government and departments under its aegis are band-aid agencies. Mere institutions are not the answer for disasters. We need institutional response. The tragedy is also an institutional disaster,” environmental activist Gopal Krishna said.
To the pilgrims and locals who were caught in the aftermath of the cloudburst, the landslides and flash flood was a lesson in the inadequacy of state and Centre that failed to respond in a united force in timely manner during their time of desperate need.
Many buried under debris might not be aware that they paid taxes to run these ministries and departments raised solely to provide assistance and help in emergency situation.