The rains have caused untold devastation across India’s length and breadth in the past few weeks. Even as the southern and western parts continue to bear the brunt of the monsoon’s fury, it’s now the North that is at the receiving end. Himachal Pradesh has been hit hard, with over 20 casualties, while Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand have also suffered heavy losses. However, this disaster can’t simply be dismissed as ‘natural’ or ‘seasonal’; it is man-made to a great extent. Unauthorised construction, deforestation, illegal quarrying and road-widening, especially in the ecologically fragile hills, have worsened the damage due to landslides. No lessons have been learnt from the cataclysmic floods that ravaged Uttarakhand in 2013. Environmental plunder goes unchecked, exposing the laxity or connivance of the authorities.
Lack of prompt disaster response is another cause for concern, more than three years after the Centre unveiled the country’s first-ever National Disaster Management Plan, which was based on the global blueprint for reducing human and economic losses — the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Earlier this year, a UN-backed initiative had been launched to involve the private sector in the disaster mitigation exercise. Sustained monitoring is needed to make such steps a success. The Disaster Management Act has stringent provisions to penalise officials for dereliction of duty during relief and rescue operations, but it does not take into account the aggravating circumstances leading to a calamity. Political patronage to the land and mining mafia is a major stumbling block. Officials who allow eco-unfriendly activities right under their nose should be brought to book and given exemplary punishment.
Disaster preparedness is no rocket science. The standard operating procedure has to be followed well before the onset of the rainy season to ensure that the stormwater drains are unclogged and the embankments are fortified. This requires synergy between various state agencies and strict enforcement of the law. Odisha, which is battered by cyclones almost on an annual basis, has shown how the losses can be minimised with meticulous planning and flawless execution. The states that are caught off guard have only themselves to blame.