Saturday, 13 December 2014

Illegal structures vulnerable, but no disaster management plan in place

The district administration's response time to the building collapse in Narhe village in the wee hours of October 31 was about two hours, say locals, and that too was possible because a clerk from the tahsildar's office lives in the locality and alerted his superior within minutes of the collapse. His superior alerted his seniors in turn and the rescue operation started.

Narhe village is not a remote area, but is fairly well connected to the city by road. But like hundreds of villages surrounding the city, Narhe is not quipped with a Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC), which is mandatory for panchayats.

It was unchecked construction on hills that led to the landslide in Malin village in Ambegaon taluka, located about 100kms from Pune city. The entire village had vanished in the landslide that claimed 151 lives. The National Disaster Response Force and the district collectorate were engaged in rescue and clearing operations for the next 10 days. But the response time to this tragedy was very delayed. It was a bus conductor who sent the alert about the tragedy when he saw debris in place of the village in the morning. It was evening by the time the first disaster management team reached the spot.

"There is absence of early warning system in our disaster management operations. Early warning systems are important to save lives. It is a fact that we are poorly equipped when it comes to disaster management," said R K Pachauri, director- general TERI. "We have to put institutions and mechanisms, which will protect life and property," he said.

The state government and district administration maintain that all is well with the disaster management plan and mechanism. The claims notwithstanding, the system is yet to show any result.

The Pune Municipal Corporation's (PMC) integrated disaster management plan report expresses doubt over the city's preparedness in case of a calamity. According to the report, the city would be caught unawares, its fire stations, fire tenders, staff and other critical equipment may prove inadequate, and its mechanism to protect water supply from probable terror attacks may fall short. "The city falls in the low capacity category to prevent and mitigate hazards. The civic body lacks a coordinated communication set-up that could warn the public and remain in communication with control mechanisms. The staff is not trained in performing emergency support function and incident response system functions," the plan added.

"The situation in the fringes is even more vulnerable. There are buildings that have come up on hills, river bodies, nullahs and even in quarries filled up with murrum. The illegal buildings must be demolished, but then there is political pressure," said a senior district official. He added that it is impossible to have a disaster management plan for illegal structures.

However, people living in such illegal buildings say they are aware of the possibility of a calamity, but have no choice. "I have to live here as my parents have invested in this apartment," said Mudassar, a private cab driver from Kondhwa. The building he lives in was constructed by a small time developer, which has no permissions in place to the best of Mudassar's knowledge. But he continues to stay here with his wife and children, hopeful that the developer hasn't compromised on the building's quality.

Saturday 13 December 2014


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