If ever there could be an example of great center/state co-operation in serving the people, it was on display in the states of Odisha and AP over the last few days. The dreaded storm Phailin – the strongest ever seen in the Indian Ocean – ended up being an image booster of sorts for India, proving that when we want to, we can work wonders. On the other hand, the man-made tragedy around the temple in MP shows the reverse – poor governance, leading to unnecessary human tragedy.
Many many people deserve to be recognized for their efforts:
First, the IMD – the much maligned, “never-can-get-it-right” meteorological department – which got it perfectly right this time. It was right about the time of the landfall (well, nearly), and more importantly about the speed of the winds (200-220 kmph, not 300+ that Western “experts” were warning). The early warning made all the difference. It helped evacuate 9 lacs people in AP alone, and maybe an additional 1 lac in AP. The IMD had been panned for not predicting the flash floods in Uttarakhand, but one has to remember that predicting floods is more difficult than predicting storms.
Second, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) created under the 2005 Disaster Management Act, and working under the Ministry of Home’s National Disaster Management Authority, made all the difference. These are a bunch of experts trained in handling natural and man made disasters. The TOI reported on Saturday 12th October that “Over 50 teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), comprising nearly 2,000 personnel, have been pre-positioned in vulnerable areas of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal ahead of Phailin's landfall on Saturday evening. The teams are equipped with satellite phones and wireless sets to maintain smooth communication, given the likely disruption in normal communication lines due to the cyclone”. If this doesn’t make us proud, what will? The paper also reported that “The national executive committee, the National Disaster Management Authority's executive body headed by the Union home secretary and comprising secretaries of various ministries and defence brass, was on Saturday closeted in a meeting, reviewing the mitigation measures and taking stock of the approaching cyclonic storm as it hits the coast”. And also “NDRF control room in Delhi is closely monitoring the situation round the clock and keeping close coordination with state administrations”. Who says our bureaucrats cannot deliver?
Third, our armed forces, who like always stayed on the ready. Website Newstrackindia.com reports “The Army has deployed an engineering task force, six composite relief units, four columns in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The Air Force, on its part, has put in place frontline C-17 Globemasters, C-130 J Super Hercules and IL-76 transport planes to Odisha to carry out relief operations. Two Indian Naval ships, including the Landing Platform Dock INS Jalashwa are standing by.
INS Jalashwa, the second largest combatant of the Indian Navy, is ideally equipped to undertake Humanitarian Aid Distress Relief (HADR), evacuation, logistic support and hospital ship operations.
Both the ships are poised with additional divers, doctors, inflatable rubber boats, integral helicopters and relief material that include food, tentage, clothes, medicines, blankets etc, in quantities sufficient to sustain over 5000 personnel for three days. Six helicopters are standing by at the Naval Air Station INS Dega to undertake reconnaissance, rescue, casualty evacuation and air drop of relief material to the stranded”.
Fourth, the states of Odisha and AP, largely the former. Outstanding preparation by the CM and his administration. Most importantly, Naveen Patnaik kept his head down, focused on the work, and stayed away from the media.
Fifth, the learnings from the past. What warms the cockles of my heart is the data that more than half the evacuated people were placed in shelters built after the 1999 tragedy. How many such stories does one get to hear in India? In MP on the other hand, 110 people died at exactly the same place where 50 had died in 2006. Truly, shorn of the marketing, MP continues to languish as an exemplar of poor governance. Why did the CM not keep special emergency rescue units ready when he knew lacs were going to attend the religious celebration? Why were there only 10 odd police personnel at the place? How does it help to order a judicial inquiry now? This is governance at its worst….
And lastly, the close co-ordination between the central and state governments. Both attacked this like they were on a mission. There was no politics, no rush for claiming high ground, no inflated egos, no imagined turf battles….nothing. Politicians and bureaucrats at the highest levels worked together in serving the people. Whether it was Naveen Patnaik or the PM/Sonia, our leaders presented a united face.
The real truth is that we Indians have the capability to achieve a lot, if only we decide to work together. In most such cases, our semi-federal structure would have become a bother in delivering speedy relief. But in Odisha/AP, we saw what co-operation between the Center and states can achieve. If only this co-operation could be seen in more states, we wouldn’t see crores of central allocations going unused even as people continued to suffer…..