Y.S. RANA CHANDIGARH—Is Chandigarh Administration prepared to meet the challenge of any disaster or natural calamity? Well, a well researched answer to this query comes only in the negative. A prying look at the basics reveals that the UT Administration’s attitude is quite casual; it has neither regular staff, nor office, to meet any disaster or contingency. And, worse still, the money received from the Centre for the purpose, has been put in a fixed deposit. They say it is not the hazards that kill, but it is ill-preparedness and lack of awareness that converts a hazard into a killer disaster. Chandigarh falls in Seismic Zone 5, which is defined as a dangerous damage risk zone. But disaster management in Chandigarh has been left at the mercy of God. Speaking to a UT Administration official brought the startling revealation that there is no sanctioned staff for the disaster management branch. The work is being looked after only by the civil defence organization, and the community-based voluntary organizations which are ill-equipped. Enquiries revealed that the UT Administration received Rs 8,62,500 from the Central Government as grant-in-aid under the approved scheme “Preparation of Disaster Management Plans” in 2009-10 for strengthening disaster management in the city.
The unspent grant-in-aid has been put into fixed deposit (FD) by the Chandigarh Administration. An official spokesman said on the condition of anonymity that since no natural disaster had taken place in Chandigarh, the amount had not been spent. Ten per cent of the funds under the Calamity Relief Fund are being given to states by the Centre for purchase of specialized equipment and provision of training. The states have been suggested to familiarize police personnel with the basics of disaster management, and train at least one battalion in disaster management as a specialist force.
The other organizations which have a great role to play in disaster management are fire services and civil defence. However, Chandigarh fire service is handicapped for want of resources and infrastructure. Similarly, civil defence, a community-based voluntary organization which can play a very important role at the grassroots level, is also unknown to most residents of the city. The vulnerability Atlas, prepared by the Building Materials Technology Promotion Council (BMPTC), indicates that 229 districts of 21 states and Union Territories fall in the seismic Zones IV and V.
According to experts, community capacity building and public awareness are of utmost importance in any initiative towards saving life and property in a disaster. The UT Administration on these fronts has done nothing. CRITICAL GAPS –Lack of formal training and awareness among stakeholders about the seismic risk and vulnerability. –Lack of adequate preparedness and response capacity among various stakeholder groups. –Inadequate medical preparedness and emergency response capabilities.