Home / Politics / Policy /  J&K floods: Where is the NDMA?

New Delhi: As army troops backed by naval boats, air force planes and helicopters, and disaster response agency battled to rescue those stranded by the devastating floods in Jammu and Kashmir over the past week, one agency was conspicuous by its absence.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the nodal agency to coordinate relief, rescue and rehabilitation efforts during national emergencies, wasn’t anywhere in the picture.

The ostensible reason: the organization, nominally headed by the prime minister, has been leader-less since vice chairman M. Shashidhar Reddy resigned on 17 June along with the five other members of the NDMA—K.M. Singh, K.N. Shrivastava, J.K. Bansal, B. Bhattacharjee and K. Salim Ali.

They stepped down on grounds that the entire top brass of the NDMA had been appointed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and couldn’t continue after that government was ousted from power in the April-May general elections.

“I will not deny that NDMA is defunct," said an official involved in the rescue operations under way in Jammu and Kashmir, on condition of anonymity.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), formed in 2006 to conduct relief and rescue efforts when natural and manmade disasters strike, is operating autonomously in Jammu and Kashmir in cooperation with other agencies, the official said.

After heavy rains lashed the state early in September, Jammu and Kashmir was hit by the worst floods in the state in many decades, with the death toll estimated to be about 250.

Authorities fear the number of dead could be higher.

Around 100,000 people have been moved to safer locations by rescue personnel in the state where authorities are now bracing for an outbreak of water-borne diseases.

NDMA, set up after the 2004 tsunami, is primarily tasked with disaster mitigation, coordination between government agencies during rescue and relief operations, providing information about medical supplies required, collection of data on deaths, diseases and missing people.

Popular anger in the state against the perceived slow response of the authorities to the floods and lack of sufficient warnings in the days prior to the disaster may have at least partly been the outcome of its functions handed over to organizations like the NDRF that lack such expertise.

“I am not prepared to find fault with anyone," science and technology minister Jitendra Singh said on Tuesday. “When the question arises of analysing this retrospectively, government will take a call," he said when asked about ignoring warning signs.

To a question about the cordination between NDMA and NDRF, Singh said, “...that is outside the purview of my department. I would not like to get into that."

The official cited above said the relief efforts were being coordinated mainly by a panel set up under cabinet secretary Ajit Seth. The NDRF is directly reporting to the home ministry. “Ideally, the minute we see extreme weather conditions, we send red alerts to state governments, resident commissioners, involve armed forces. We have specialists on floods, landslides, earthquakes, etc., who then take over and draw out a plan for the rescue efforts which forces like NDRF implement. In absence of a nodal agency, the rescue effort is haphazard," said an NDMA employee, on the condition of anonymity.

In the aftermath of last year’s Uttarakhand floods, the NDMA had involved the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), in addition to the armed forces and the NDRF. In the current rescue efforts in Jammu and Kashmir, only the armed forces and the NDRF are participating.

NDMA’s former vice chairman Reddy said, “The country needs a strong disaster management authority. My appeal to the prime minister is that the NDMA be reconstituted immediately and not be diluted."

In absence of NDMA’s top brass, the organization stopped screening weather reports from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), failing to sound warnings that could have led to the timely evacuation of residents living in flood-prone regions.

NDMA also failed to share infrastructure like its call centres with the NDRF to assist with the rescue efforts.

NDMA secretary Satya N. Mohanty couldn’t be reached for comment. The joint secretary Neelkamal Darbari had been sanctioned a month-long vacation starting on Monday, her office said.

In fact, NDMA has been so completely out of the picture that the floods in Jammu and Kashmir found no mention on its website even on Thursday.

Aman Malik, Elizabeth Roche and Nikita Mehta contributed to this story.

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