Deeply pained and distressed to see the way the “action-end” of the present administration has behaved ( mal-behaved, would be more appropriate ) during this arguably the biggest ever human tragedy this nascent State has been subjected to by the Nature and seriously compromised and compounded by innumerable acts of omission and commission on the part of present Administration, this writer had penned as many as four articles under Disastrous Management of Uttarakhand series. The same was followed-up by a few more which had indicated how the various R&R measures could have been followed-up in an “emergency-like” mode e.g. legitimately crashing time that gets taken in taking critical decisions, voluntary abstinence on the part of all elected representatives from all conceivable acts of interference in activities which by definition were all purely administrative in nature etc. Yet another, demonstrated how Ministries like MoEF, suddenly remembered that they also had a major role to play during the past three decades in ‘sustainable mountain development’, but did not do anything worth the name. How miserably Ministry of Environment and Forests ( MoEF ) has failed in its duties and responsibilities is best illustrated by their ‘eloquent, if not deafening silence’ so far either directly or through their instruments like the Govind Ballabh Pant Himalayan Institute of Environment and Development GBP HIED), which happens to be located in this State alone, at Almora. To cut a long story short, “Accountability” of various institutions charged with looking after the welfare and security, leave aside development, has been the major failure, both at the Union Government level as well as at the State level. Here, this failure has been on the part of all political parties, both at the Union and the State level, as has also been shared in previous articles that have already appeared.
Messing Up with ‘Rehabilitation, Relief and Reconstruction’
That the present administration simply refuses to learn anything from the past mistakes at all is now made evident by two stories, that this writer read with greatest amount of concern, distress and frustration. Both related to the next logical steps that naturally have to be mounted at highest priority almost on 24×7 mode, as the rainy season continues to add to the miseries of the affected people, soon going to be further aggravated by the winter season which prevents any relief or reconstruction work, whatsoever. This writer, working locally, has shared a Rapid Survey Report of the 14 Indo-China border villages, showing how the existing infrastructure has been totally demolished, leaving all border villages disconnected, and which certainly adds to our strategic concerns, as has appeared in some national news papers. Negligence on the part of the Uttarakhand Government, of our Indo-China border villages, as now illustrated by the photographs this writer has already shared, will now also require to be shared with the Union Ministries of Defence and Home, as well as External Affairs Ministries. Which certainly will now be done, before long.
The two stories that generate great concern and serious doubts about the individual and collective administrative capacity of this administration relates to, first, ( i ) Notification about the ‘areas’ affected by the present natural calamity, now to be defined under ‘disaster’ as per the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and, next ( ii ) constitution of a ‘Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority’ not within the over-all architecture of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 ( Headlines on Notification of affected areas after 40 Days of the disaster and constitution of the Authority, Amar Ujala, 27 July, and Dainik Jagaran, 28 July ). One just hopes, as the news reports do not mention, that the responsible authorities crafting the proposed authority have drawn lessons from the four other Authorities that have been created by other affected States. Experts who attended the Inter-Ministerial Group meeting called by the Prime Minister provide a rather pessimistic scenario of this State’s state of preparedness, even on this score. The only good news that one has read recently about the tragic experience just undergone and that related to documentation being undertaken by the State Police. One only hopes that these experiences are also backed up by GD entries, even belated. All these documentations, not merely by the State police, should all be factored into the District Disaster Management Plans, which also should be ordered simultaneously, all DMs being made responsible, as is the provision.
Why the Authority not under the Disaster Management Act ?
This writer would at the outset would consider our Union Ministry and the various organs set up under the over all architecture of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 primarily responsible in not having suitably developed the entire administrative, legal and even financial architecture of a most responsive set up to address, both mitigate and manage, disasters both at the Union and the 28 States of the Union of India, so far. The fact that there exists a difference of opinion at the highest level with regard to the constitution and functioning of an Authority to look after Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in itself a cause of great concern at the level, both those who are responsible for its design and anchoring. Looking from outside it is just obvious that any such Authority, or for that matter any activity, ( i ) policy, ( ii ) administrative, legal and financial decision making, and ( iii ) matters allied to ‘ disaster management ’ must be under a Department which has been created, as soon as the state was formed. First, if there exists any doubt the ‘Distribution of Work’ list must be immediately re-visited and all these activities must be added, minutely following the objective behind constitution of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 ( see sec 2 clause e, sub sections i to viii ).
From sub section ( viii ), clause ( e ), it would be abundantly clear that ‘Rehabilitation and Reconstruction’ fall in the definition of ‘disaster management’. As to relief, sub section ( vii ) makes it also clear that ‘evacuation, rescue and relief’ are very much part and parcel of ‘disaster management.
Anchoring of the Authority ?
After examining that the core activities of the proposed Authority have to be brought exclusively within the ambit of the existing legal architecture of the Disaster Management Act, it is now a constitutional binding that all activities that come under the definition and ambit of the “disaster management” have to be legally harmonized and channelled through the mechanisms set for implementing of the DM Act, 2005.
In so far as the Union Government is concerned, it would be remembered that initially activities, especially matters related to Natural Calamity Relief Funds were being looked after by the Union Agriculture Ministry which were later transferred to the Union Home Ministry, which is present central anchor Ministry.
Chapter III of the DM Act, 2005 exclusively deals with all that is required to be done at the State level, from sec 14 to sec 24, whereas Chapter IV exclusively deals with all that needs to be undertaken at the District level, from sec 25 to sec 34. Both these chapters leave nothing to the imagination in terms of advance planning and subsequent follow-up action. To repeat ad nauseum now, it is precisely where Uttarakhand Governments, right from 2007 till date have failed most disastrously. This is now being reflected in its after effects, e.g. this huge confusion about ‘notification’, ‘applicability of the Calamity’, ‘anchoring and very constitution of the Authority’ etc. One only hopes that our Disaster Management Act, will now undertake afresh a section by section reading first by the officials of the Department itself and then follow it up with a class of all responsible Ministers, so that valuable public time is not lost in such obvious things, leading to a creation of rank confusion and chaos in handling situations as grave as caused by the 16th June event.
A reading of the Disaster Management Act would suggest that there has to be a Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority, headed by Chief Minister himself, plus a maximum of eight more nominated members, of which the Chief Secretary, who is also the Chairperson of the State Executive Committee, ex-officio ( sec 14 ), here the Chief Minister has an option to designate one of the remaining seven nominated members, as also the Vice Chair of the State Authority. Under normal circumstances, as there is a Deaprtment and full-fledged Minister for Disaster Management, contingency and common intelligence would suggest, that this Minister is not only one of the eight nominated members but also designated as the Vice Chair of the State Authority. This writer is not aware of the existing position. If it is not so then there is something very seriously wrong, a ready mix for all kinds of misunderstandings and all that follows from it. This writer hopes that it is so, and state politics is not a deciding desiderata. Here high efficiency of all mechanisms, should drive such a decision. As well know Chief Ministers are busy bodies and it is his responsibility to ensure that his miscellaneous preoccupations should not come in the way of important decisions, such as these one related to disaster management and related matters. Now, one poser remains common to all three Chief Ministers we have had since 2007, if such a provision had existed, why they or any of the several Ministers who have held charge of this crucial portfolio, i.e. disaster management department, did not remind either the Chief Minister or took responsibility on themselves to not only prepare a State Plan, but also all the 13 District DM Plans, which should have been in place, and not found by the CAG in his recent Report ( Report 5 of 2013) ? Accountability for failure will continue to dog all those who were guilty of this major act of omission, you could be sure of that.
Moving forward, it is abundantly clear that while the State Authority has the over all responsibility for ‘laying down policies and plans for disaster management in the State’ ( Secs 1 and 2, sec 18 ), in so far as the over all execution of any part of the disaster management plan of the State is concerned this role has been earmarked for the State Executive Committee, headed in his ex-officio capacity by the State Chief Secretary ( sub sec 2, sec 20 ). The State Executive Committee, as is stipulated, consists of the State Chief Secretary, and ‘four Secretaries to the Government of the State, of such departments as the State Government may think fit, again ex-officio’ ( clause b, sub sec 2, sec 20 ). Even a most cursory look at the Functions of the State Executive Committee, to repeat headed by the State Chief Secretary, would make it clear that it is the statutory responsibility of the State Executive Committee whose exclusive responsibility it is to implement ‘the National Plan and the State Plan ( disaster management plans)’ and act ‘as the coordinating and monitoring body for management of disaster in the State’.( sec 1 and 2, and clauses a to q ). From the above statutory provisions the following two pints emerge very clearly :
( a ) While the ‘responsibility for laying down policies and plans for disaster management of the State’ as well as approval of the State Plan‘ rests with the State Disaster Management Authority, headed by the State Chief Minister ( secs 14 to 18 ),
( b ) the actual execution of all approved Plans rest with the State Executive Authority, which is exclusively manned by the state bureaucracy, headed by the State Chief Secretary.( secs 20 to 24 )., and
( c ) at the district level, again it is statutorily provided, that ‘ the Collector or District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner, of the district shall be ‘ its chairperson, in his ex-officio capacity.
Role and Responsibility of the State Bureaucracy
From the above discussion the following two deductions should not be very difficult to arrive at :
( a ) Any ‘Authority’ constituted to discharge any responsibility or powers statutorily can not be outside the over all architecture of the Disaster Management Act, 2005,
( b ) The Authority for ‘Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction’ being part of the disaster management has to be constituted in such a manner that its over all planning and approval comes within the ambit of powers given to the State Disaster Management Authority, headed by the State Chief Minister, and
( c ) In so far as the execution on ground is concerned it is essentially and purely an executive responsibility of the state bureaucracy, headed by the state Chief Secretary ( sec 20 ), as also that of the district magistrate, at the district level ( secs 25 and 26 ).
Considering the fact that the National Auditor ( CAG ) in his first Report on the management of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 has already indicted the Uttarakhand government ( Report 5 of 2013 ) with regard to its slackness, indifference and lackadaisical ways in management of funds released to the Disaster Management department in the past few years it is all the more imperative that at every stage henceforth the State bureaucracy at each stage of the execution of the disaster management plan, starting from the criterion of selection of the villages, tehsils and districts affected by the current disaster leading to the ‘notification of such affected areas’ down to approval of each scheme of relief and rehabilitation and each scheme for ‘reconstruction or construction’ by way of mitigation must very scrupulously follow what has been so elaborately laid out in the Disaster Management Act, 2005. It is their bounden duty, especially in this Age of the RTI Act, that they should have courage and boldness to insist on getting recorded their express opinion with regard to the rules and regulations, and even guidelines, which must ensure that public resources are deployed on what they are meant for. In the past ‘pro-rata’ allocation of public funds meant for disaster management activities have been allegedly distributed in terms of political constituencies and pressures from various quarters have been applied to ensure that a particular execution agency alone gets a particular sanction work , such tendencies should be very severely curbed and refused, not just ‘resisted’.
At a time, when the State should have regrouped itself, with a new resolve to make up for past mistakes and sluggishness, news items appearing in the print media alleging ( i ) injudicious application of public funds meant for mitigation measures for a colossal disaster on considerations other than purely objective, ( ii ) riding rough-shod and pushing through decisions with regard to location of a supreme authority to look after the over due rehabilitation and reconstruction work away from what has been prescribed by a national law, and ( iii ) incipient attempts at diluting the authority now vested squarely on the bureaucracy for execution of plans and measures, even if partially correct are most unfortunate and reprehensible. While caught napping when one should have been ‘ready to go’ may be some what excusable, given the advantage of a long period of slackness by the previous political regimes, but a deliberate messing-up with the post –disaster ‘rehab and reconstruction’ plan with a view to overcome purely potential political dissent might prove to be a proverbial ‘last straw’ on the back of an already groaning public patience and sense of tolerance. True, various discretions and exceptions have been provided in the extant law to the Chief Minister ( sub sec 3, sec 18, permitting Chief Minister exercise all or any of the powers of the State Authority in the case of an emergency ), all such decisions are not only subject to ex post facto ratification of the State Authority but also answerable to the public at large, especially those in whose name, dead, living or missing, these measures are going to be carried out. It would henceforth be highly advisable for the already battered and sagging image of this government that each and every decision taken by it on any aspect of disaster management be now suo moto made public, under section 4 of the Right to Information Act for public consumption, as soon as it is taken, so that rumour mongering and chances of mis-information and dis-information of the steps taken are reduced to just zero.