A Disastrous Act

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The plans that were devised by Center under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, did not foresee such a huge calamity and the humanitarian crisis emerging out of it.

The complete lockdown of the country, pathetic condition of the migrant workers in various cities reflects that our country was not prepared to the impending disaster.

It appears that there was no plan devised for the management of such an enormous disaster. Obviously it appears that the plans that were devised under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 did not foresee such a huge calamity.

 The government mainly functions basing on the enactments made by the legislature. The programmes, the conceived plans, formulated guidelines would be within the framework of the legislations made in the said regard.

The United Nations general assembly made a declaration to observe the decade for 1990s as International Decade For Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). It initiated a global compaign towards social economic strategy of the countries during natural disasters. Pursuant to the same in the year 1999 the central government had setup a High Powered Committee (HPCS) on disaster management.

The series of catastrophic natural disasters such as Gujarat earthquake in the year 2001, Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 had led to enactment of The Disaster Management Act, 2005. The Disaster Management Act, 2005 was enacted during the period of congress rule and in the backdrop of natural calamities that occurred viz. tsunami, floods, earthquakes etc.

The entire legislation was drafted with a myopic view. The definition of ‘disaster’ under Sec 2(d) of the Act defines disaster as a catastrophic, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence IN ANY AREA, arising from natural or manmade causes or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to the property or degradation of environment and is of such nature or magnitude beyond coping capacity of the community of the affected area.

A reading of the aforesaid definition shows that the same has been drafted keeping in mind the disasters such as tsunami, cyclone or earthquake or fire accidents etc. vis.vis specified areas.

 It did not visualise a situation wherein a disaster may be caused because of cross border viral contamination spreading throughout the country. The use of the words ‘ANY AREA’ in the definition of ‘disaster’ is very confined. It relates to only a particular area within the country wherein such natural disasters occur.

 Sec.3 of the Act contemplates establishment of National Disaster Management Authority for which the Prime Minister of India shall be Chairperson and the other members not exceeding nine should be nominated by the Chairperson. Sec.6 contemplates the powers of the National Authority.

 The National Authority is empowered to formulate policies, plans and guidelines in relation to disaster management. Obliviously the plans, policies and guidelines that would be devised under Sec 6 would be in consonance with the definition of ‘disaster’ contained in Sec.2(d) of the Act.

The plans or the guidelines of the policies would be confined only in relation to such type of disasters which are confined to a particular area. Obviously the entire Act would be implemented in the backdrop of the definition of ‘disaster’ contained in Sec.2(d) of the Act. And therefore all the plans would be short sighted confined only to a particular nature of disasters which relate to particular areas.

The outbreak of Corona virus in china and spreading of the same across the borders of various countries including India and our unpreparedness to such disasters requires an amendment to the definition of the disaster contained in the Act so as to enable the government to formulate plans, policies in consonance with the definition.

 Till now though the plans and guidelines of the policies have been formulated they are in consonance with the existing definition which is very confined definition and therefore we could not envisage any plan or policy in the light of present disaster. This is the reason as to why we are facing difficulties to manage the present disaster.

 Anticipating a disaster is one aspect and the post disaster management is another. In order to anticipate a disaster and to formulate a policy, the definition also should include such disasters which may affect the whole country and not confined only to the extent of those disasters which are confined to specific area. If such an amendment is brought in, a suitable plan would be formulated by the competent authorities under the Act.

The Act also contemplates constitution of State disaster authority and a district level disaster management authority by the respective State governments.

 Under Sec.23 the State government shall prepare a plan for disaster management to every State but the same in the light of definition contained in Sec 2(d) would be very confined.

Sec.35 contemplates measures to be taken by the government in relation to disaster management. The central government shall co-ordinate with all the ministries, State governments, the national authorities and state authorities. But Sec.35 though empowers Central government to take measures, in the light of the definition of ‘disaster’ which is very confined, it would be very difficult to visualise a situation which has presently arisen.

Sec.42 of the Act empowers the Central government to constitute an institute called as National Institute of Disaster Management. The main function of the said institute would be to develop, undertake research and documentation in relation to disaster management.

The said institutes also conduct programmes and formulate comprehensive human resource development plan covering all the aspects of disaster management. But as stated the entire action would be directed against only those aspects which can be termed as a ‘disaster’ within the meaning of Sec.2(d) of the Act.

 Now the government has to bring in a suitable amendment to The Disaster Management Act, 2005 to effectively to deal with such situations. More particularly the definition of ‘disaster’ under Sec.2(d) has to be amended so as to bring in to its fold the calamities / disasters which the country is facing now. This would enable to effectively handle the Disaster Management in the present type of calamities.

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Chittarvu Raghu

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