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Following the concerns regarding the recent gas leak at the LG Polymers’ plant in Visakhapatnam, the National Disaster Management Authority has issued strict guidelines on the restarting of manufacturing industries post the lockdown period, which has arisen due to the on-going COVID-19 crisis. As a further explanation of the guidelines, it is suggested that due to several weeks of lockdown and closure of the industrial units, there is a possibility that the established SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) might have been disregarded by the operators and chances of residual chemicals on manufacturing facilities, pipelines, valves, etc. are higher and pose a threat to the safety of the people. This also applies to storage facilities with hazardous chemicals and flammable materials.
The general guidelines include considering the first week as a trial or test-run period while ensuring completion of all the safety protocols and trying to limit the production targets to a minimum, employees must be made aware to identify and report any potentially hazardous activity, and all the equipment must be inspected as per the safety protocol during the restart phase. Other guidelines include checking the storage facilities for any damage, 24-hour sanitisation of the factory premises, checking temperatures of the workers twice a day, and practicing physical distancing in the workplace, among others.
What is NDMA?
The National Disaster Management Authority (or NDMA, for short) is a government body under the Ministry of Home Affairs and is chaired by the Prime Minister. The motive behind the creation of this body is to “concentrate on prevention, mitigation, preparedness, rehabilitation and reconstruction, and also formulate appropriate policies and guidelines for effective and synergised national disaster response and relief”.
The Disaster Management Act came into force on 23 December 2005 and formulated NDMA along with it. In layman’s terms, NDMA can be seen as the apex statutory body for effective disaster management in India. The establishment of NDMA was an aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, when the government realized the significance of Disaster Management and prioritised it as a prime concern for the nation.
Its powers and functions
The NDMA has a vision: “To build a safer and disaster resilient India by a holistic, pro-active, technology-driven and sustainable development strategy that involves all stakeholders and fosters a culture of prevention, preparedness, and mitigation.”
As an outcome of the aforementioned goals, NDMA’s responsibilities include the following:
- Establishing policies on disaster management;
- Approving the National Disaster Management Plan;
- Approving the plans established by the Ministries or Departments of the Government of India in accordance with the National Plan;
- Laying down guidelines to be followed by the State Authorities whilst establishing the State Plans;
- Coordinating the enforcement and implementation of the policies and plans for disaster management;
- Recommending the provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation;
- Providing necessary support to other countries affected by major disasters as may be determined by the Central Government;
- Taking any such measures for the prevention of disaster, or the mitigation, or preparedness and capacity building for dealing with threatening disaster situations or disasters as may be necessary;
- Laying down broad policies and guidelines for the functioning of the National Institute of Disaster Management.
There is a provision for an advisory committee to be set up under NDMA comprising of experts in the field of disaster management who can make recommendations and suggestions on different aspects related to disaster management, if need be. Some other powers vested in NDMA include exercising superintendence, direction and control over the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and even the working of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) falls within the framework of broad policies and guidelines laid down by the NDMA.
NDMA is mandated to look over all types of disasters, whether natural or man-made. It is also authorized to have close involvement in emergencies like terrorist attacks, serial bomb blasts, hijacking, forest fires, oil spills, etc.
Thus, as an apex authority, NDMA is required to lay down the policies, plans and guidelines for Disaster Management in the country and ensure effective and prompt response to any disaster.
NDMA is always working to make its vision a reality and this is done by adopting a mission-mode approach, promoting a culture of preparedness and prioritising disaster management at all times, encouraging mitigation measures based on state-of-the-art technology and environmental sustainability, promoting awareness and joining hands with media houses, NGOs and corporates to do the same, reconstructing and rebuilding better disaster-resilient structures and habitats, etc.
Some of the noteworthy work by NDMA:-
- National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project being sponsored by World Bank is started by National Disaster Management Authority with Andhra Pradesh and Odisha as participating states. The objective of the project is to upgrade Early Warning Dissemination System to reduce risk of people living in coastal areas. Other programs includes School Safety Program, Decision Support System etc.
- Guidelines were issued on Build Back Better which aimed to reconstruct the area after facing disaster. The guidelines are being formulated in consultation with UNDP.
- Guidelines on Temporary Shelters were issued to facilitate victims of disasters as per their needs. Other guidelines on management of hospital safety, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, flood, drought, nuclear attack, chemical disaster etc. has also been issued by the authorities.
- Several Workshops like National Workshops on Disaster Database and Heat waves has been conducted by National Disaster Management Authority.
- Aapda Mitra Scheme has been formulated by the Authority to train community volunteers in disaster response in selected 30 states.
- Other issues such as Guidelines on School Safety Policy, Guidelines on Hospital Safety, Guidelines on Management of Drought, Guidelines on Management of Urban Flooding, Landslide Risk Management Strategy, among others. NDMA also conducts mock exercises for better crisis management in case a disaster situation arises.
- A real-time example of exemplary disaster management and planning in India was when Cyclone Fani hit India in 2019 and active preparedness saved a multitude of lives. Another commendable job was done when Cyclone Hudhud hit in 2014 and the crisis was weakened with the help of timely action and efforts.
The National Disaster Management Authority has been actively issuing guidelines to help people in various sectors of the economy and to create awareness and lessen the stress during the current ongoing pandemic.
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 defines disaster as “a catastrophe, 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, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”.
Keeping the above definition in mind, it can be clearly observed that a national-level disaster management authority is extremely helpful when such a tragedy strikes. The National Disaster Management Authority has been established with the aim to actively prepare for disasters beforehand and make efforts to reduce the damage and help in the rehabilitation of the people who have suffered.
Act specific criticisms:-
- Section 13 of the Act defines disaster as substantial damage to person and property. The word substantial damage is subjective and might be misused. Loans are to be furnished or relief can be granted in cases of severe damage but no one is the judge of same thus favoring nepotism.
- The Act doesn’t specify disaster prone zones in India. Doing this would help both Centre and State to formulate specific guidelines for the same. The same method is followed by several foreign countries like South Africa etc.
- No qualification procedure is specified in the Act to become a member of the Committee thus favoring nepotism as people might favor their kith and kin. A specific qualification procedure must be laid down in the Act.
- The disaster talked about in the Act is sudden and no guidelines are formulated for a progressive disaster. Covid-19 is one of the progressive disasters as it developed gradually in the world and then reached India. Vizag gas leak was the result of lack in guidelines for such disasters which were laid down by the Ministry after the loss.
Over the years, there have been times where the body has failed in its efforts. Delays in the completion of flood management projects have led to violent floods overcoming various parts of the country and resulting in unnecessary destruction that could have been prevented. There have also been reports of misutilization of funds in different departments that have resulted in weakening the work of the government body.
To overcome the difficulties, India must sharpen NDMA’s policies and guidelines and actively adopt and work towards maintaining a practice of disaster management and preparedness in the country.
NDMA must focus on the profound aspects of disaster management which are prevention, mitigation, preparedness, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and recovery. This will lead to building a safer India and fulfilling the national vision of NDMA. Policies and plans laid down by NDMA must see proper enforcement and implementation in order to successfully chart out their efforts.
The present national lockdowns have been imposed under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and NDMA must ensure that COVID-19, which is being classified as a biological disaster, is contained and coordination amongst state governments is thorough and proper, with uniform measures being adopted across India.
Authors: Nimrat Dhillon from Government Law College, Mumbai) and Ronak Goyal from National Law Institute University, Bhopal.
Editor: Muskaan Garg from Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana.