Issues for isaster Management and Disaster Risk Reduction in India

The death toll of Fani Cyclone which hit the Odisha coast on the Friday morning of May 3rd, has now reportedly risen to 64 lives and caused colossal damages to vital infrastructure in sectors of telecom, power and water supply, in towns and districts like Bhubaneswar, Puri, Khurdha, Cuttack and Nayagarh.

During any natural calamities, the governments of the states which are hit by such calamities, are primarily responsible for execution of relief operations, with the Central government only supplanting its efforts by providing financial assistance from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) as well as National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).

Hence, post this tragedy too, the India’s central government sanctioned an advance of Rs. 341 crores to Orissa’s State Disaster Response Fund, and after gauging the extent of damage, announced an additional relief of Rs. 1000 crore rupees.

The Odisha government’s efforts were lauded internationally too, as it was able to minimise the damage to lives and property, on account of advance and accurate warnings of the cyclone issued by the Metrological department. Odisha had learnt its lessons well from the past calamities it has faced, the most horrendous being the Super Cyclone of 1999 which claimed 10,000 lives and pushed more than 25 lakh people into extreme poverty. This is evident because this time around, it was able to evacuate more than 1 million people into 9000 shelters which had been made with 20 years of persistent efforts. (Orissa had just 21 shelters in 1999).

Odisha government responded to the disaster with the help of huge number of volunteers, emergency workers, officials, youth clubs, and other civil society organisations like National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF). The rescue operations before and after the event executed by the Odisha government with help of defence forces and various other stakeholders including the central government that worked in tandem with the state government.

The preparedness of the state government and the swift response to the disaster also stemmed from the fact that India is committed to following the ‘Sendai Framework’ (a framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) which is endorsed by the United Nations). The Indian government had released its first ever National Disaster Management Plan, based on the Sendai Framework on 1st June 2016. The countries, which are committed to this framework are bound to make all possible efforts before and during the natural calamity to minimise the destruction of lives and property.

The restoration of the damaged infrastructure and rehabilitation of millions of people, who have lost their homes, savings, property and livelihoods is now a challenge, which requires huge amount of funds as well as, a well developed and managed plan.

The assistance for long term reconstruction of assets is not covered under norms and guidelines of SDRF & NDRF, but is left to be provided by overall development plans of the states and the centre. Post implementation of GST, the states are finding their flexibility in terms of their receipts reduced. This is so because, many indirect taxes are subsumed by GST and their rates are now decided by GST Council. Thus, the states now have limited flexibility in making decisions regarding tax rates on goods and services.

The only silver lining here is the fact that the Centre has guaranteed a 14% increase in tax revenue for a period of five years, post 2018-19. In case of less than 14 % growth, the states will be given compensation grants by the Centre. Odisha specifically would receive 4,074 crores in 2018-19.
The limited flexibility in fixing tax rates or introducing new taxes, means that the government cannot pin all its hopes on this avenue of fund generation.

Clearly, a catastrophe of this nature that has affected 14 million people in 16,000 villages would need massive resources and involvement of various stakeholders and the private corporate sector will play a pivotal role. The private sector is and cannot be unaffected by the negative impact of disasters and the long-time taken to rehabilitate and rebuild; on the growth patterns of the economy. In order to involve the private sector creatively, in this exercise, it is necessary to tap the huge potential of CSR; not only for relief work but also to work dedicatedly to build resilience in systems to mitigate risk during disasters. The best approach to bring private sector to partner with the government sector in this task, would be to clearly define CSR interventions for DRR and building resilience in rural as well as urban communities.

If a chain of efforts is initiated with corporate sector and support from civil society and NGOs, the initiatives so taken, will have a potential to encourage Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) which can play a vital role thereby speeding up the pace of recovery of the economy. The government both Centre and states have now realized that a lack of preparedness causes substantial drain on vital resources.

Therefore, the issue of mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction and long term planning for disaster management has been brought for deliberations, on the table. Many organisations like the National Institute of Disaster Management are now deliberating on the issue. The government is also ready to tweak CSR laws under the Companies Act to enable greater participation of the private sector for the cause of DRR.

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