Budgeting for a safer India

Budgeting for a safer India

Although India is one of the most disaster-prone countries in Asia, it does not budget sufficiently for reducing even the most significant disaster risks. Though money is spent on setting up the National Disaster Management Authority and its related and relevant retinue, the money is not put where it reduces the risks most: in the hands of vulnerable cities and districts.

The Delhi declaration at the Asian ministerial conference in November 2007 claimed that for each rupee invested in mitigation, at least nine are saved by averting costly emergency and rehabilitation efforts. The message is clear: Disaster reduction pays, both in lives and in rupees. The Union Budget 2008 must take the leap and make this investment.

City safety fund: More than 38 cities—each with a population of more than 500,000— are in seismic zones III, IV and V, exposing an estimated 93 million citizens in some of our largest economic centres to earthquake hazards.

Though many of these cities have taken various preparedness measures, from plans in Delhi to mock drills in Kochi, to refurbishing fire stations in Ahmedabad, the cities do not allocate money to make their citizens safer. These cities are booming with buildings, with construction, and other signs of an economic upswing.

The Budget must launch a Rs10,000 crore city safety fund to be used by cities on a fund-matching basis for earthquake retrofitting and mitigation projects. Under such a programme, for example, the city of Mumbai would make the Mumbai stock exchange earthquake- resistant and the government of India would foot half the bill.

The fund can be expanded over the next five years, through a levy on corporate sector income that has been generated from lucrative investments in urban infrastructure and real estate. In this way, cities will harmonize Sensex and seismic movements.

The district disaster risk reduction (DRR) programme: At least 169 districts of India are prone to floods, cyclones, earthquakes or droughts. An estimated one-fourth of citizens are exposed to these four hazards; in some cases, they are exposed to them annually. These districts are home to a large number of Indian citizens who haven’t benefited from the recent and ongoing economic growth. This includes poor women, minorities, Dalits, casual labourers and large numbers of tribals.

Development is delayed for these very large groups. Disasters reach them with rapid regularity.

These districts have gone through district preparedness planning, including village-level contingency plans and mock drills over the past three years. What the districts do not have is the money to take early warning or preparedness measures. The Union Budget 2008 must launch a five-year district DRR programme, Centrally funded, to invest directly in mitigation measures. Under the Disaster Management Act of 2005, the government of India and state governments are committed to promoting such preventive efforts at the district level.

We plan to double the size of our economy in the next five years. Should the Budget allocations not reduce the risks facing us and our plan?

Mihir R. Bhatt is director, All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Ahmedabad, and founding member of the National Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction. Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com

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