Saturday, November 3, 2007

Report on the meeting with Mr A Purkayastha (IAS), Principal Secretary, Disaster Management, Govt of West Bengal on 02Nov2007

The meeting was held at the Circuit House, Darjeeling.

The following were present:-

a) Mr A Purkayastha (IAS), Principal Secretary (PS), Disaster Management, Govt of West Bengal.

b) Mr Rajesh Pande (IAS) District Magistrate (DM), Darjeeling District.

c) Mr A Lepcha (WBCS) Asst District Magistrate(ADM), Disaster Management, Darjeeling District.

d) Mrs Zimba (WBCS), ADM General, Darjeeling District.

e) Mrs Sunita Mishra (WBCS), SDO Sadar, Darjeeling.

f) Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd) – from “savethehills” (9832093746)

g) Mr Bishnu Chettri - from “savethehills” (9332044626)

h) Mr Roshan Rai- from “savethehills” (9932024812)

1) The meeting began at approx 1100hrs with the Principal Secretary (PS) stressing the importance of HAM radio stations in a disaster scenario where there would be a total breakdown of power and communication lines. In this regard he said that the entire district was under Earthquake Hazard Zone IV as such there was a need for carry out mock drills on disaster management. He asked the DM to look into how best HAM radios could be used in the district with the help of NGOs, in this situation. He also clearly stated that the rapid and unchecked growth of multistorey complexes in urban areas would only add to the disaster problem and therefore needs to be addressed.

2) Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd), drew the attention of the PS and the DM to the landslide situation in Kalimpong by displaying a map of Kalimpong town and its vicinity, where landslide hazard zones were clearly marked. He asked the PS what measures were being adopted for prevention and mitigation of landslides in the future, stressing the need for training “jhoras”. He gave an example of Sindebung where untrained jhoras were doing immense damage and also mentioned Dr Graham’s Homes dispensary area as a critical landslide zone.

3) Other members of “savethehills” forum added information on landslides in the rural areas.

4) This was followed by a discussion regarding the lines of responsibility in disaster management, where the PS clearly stated that:-

a) Prevention of disaster was NOT the responsibility of the Disaster Management Department, Govt of West Bengal since so many of the concerned agencies/departments involved in prevention of landslides were not under him.

b) Under these circumstances he said that the Disaster Management Department could only act as a facilitating and coordinating agency within the many other departments that were engaged directly in preventive work against landslides.

c) The only direct action that his department could take regarding preparedness was through spreading of awareness about landslides and mock drills prior to disaster and then in relief action post disaster.

5) The DM asked the “savethehills” forum to deal directly with Chief Principal Secretary, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), regarding the preventive measures against landslides since all the concerned departments were under DGHC.

6) The “savethehills” members apprised the PS and the DM about the dilemma this dual responsibility between the State Administration and DGHC was creating with regard to disaster management in the district.

7) The PS instructed the DM to ask the GSI or any other appropriate organization like the IITs to undertake a detailed survey of the landslide affected areas.

8) The meeting ended with “savethehills” forum being asked to collect as much data as was possible on landslides in the district, and passing it onto the DM for onward processing.

A letter stressing the necessity to shift the focus of disaster management from “relief-centric” and “post-event” response, to a regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation- as per the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh was handed over to the PS and DM by Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd).

After the 45mins or so we spent at the meeting, what we from “savethehills” wondered was this:-

Just what did we achieve?

Having alerted the government about a possible disaster scenario in the hills, were we, as mere concerned citizens also expected to keep knocking on the doors of different govt /DGHC departments to find out just who would initiate preventive action against landslides?

- since THAT is hopefully, the essence of disaster management.

praful rao


sonambwangyal said...

Dear Praful,
What a waste. You became a classic victim of “passing the buck”. The Disaster Management Department (DMD) says it is not their job, the DM points to the DGHC and the latter to the State Government and the farce of a circle spins on its own inertia. It pains to hear that PREVENTION of destruction and deaths is NOT the brief of the DMD. In other words we have to suffer before they step in to action. That really sucks. What is also sadistically humerous is that we have to run “mock drills” prior to an impending disaster, let the disaster actually take place, then we put the mock drill into action and finally after we have been wrecked and devastated the DMD steps in with bandages and hand-outs. Wow, that really “mocks” us. The DMD it appears is a party that as a matter of fact WAITS (or should I say “prays”) for a disaster to take place otherwise it becomes functionless: it becomes a parasite thriving on the State exchequer. How ironical and what a mockery!
Despite the farce that you ran into on Saturday, the 3rd, we know that you will persist, that you will be relentless and that you will in the end bring some solace to our hills. I and thousands of others, who may not necessarily post in a blogspot, are with you. We know that you bear a heavy cross on your shoulders but we also know that they are the best shoulders in our neighborhood.

"Lardai lardai baachnu parcha
Baachdai baachdai larnu parcha"


Darjeeling Brew said...

This report was published last year. Although it talks about earthquakes, the focus remains preparedness of the authorities in the hills towards disasters. Please note the hardware in possession of the authorities.
A question for the RTI would be - have you honourable morons added more than buckets, ropes and 10 bicycles that need repairs to your "impressive" arsenal?
About the representation with the official from Kolkata that you had, let's put it behind us. The worthy almost imputed that its our duty to collect data. And what's he going to do? Warm his cushy chair which we pay for? The temerity!
Let's think about next step ( maybe you already have).

DARJEELING, Feb 14. – This should be a wake up call for Darjeeling hills. But would it?

As residents were literally shaken out of their beds around 6:30 am this morning, the biggest thought racing in their minds was – is this the long forecasted big shake? People knew only one thing could save them as the earth wobbled beneath, prayers.

Locals of this most populated mountain town of the world (over 10,000 heads living per sq km), and situated in a seismically active zone, have known that a strong quake can wipe them off. Not only is disaster preparedness totally lacking, but massive concrete constructions, with little regard to safety, have blanketed the hillsides.

Shaken up by the tremors, people today complained they have little information about what they should do in event of an earthquake. (Interestingly, a list of do's and don'ts are being repeatedly published in all national dailies by the Centre for cyclone hazards.)

Asked about the actual level of preparedness on the ground, the district officials today said they were in the "process of fine tuning" the steps to be taken. Purportedly, after the recent devastating quake in Pakistan/Kashmir the state-level authorities have taken up disaster management in the Darjeeling hills in earnest.

"Only three days ago, 15 areas to be used as helipads in event of a natural disaster have been identified in the hills. Around 143 relief and rescue shelters are in place. An Emergency Operations Centre will be set up at the District Magistrate's office," an official said.

But certain basic issues remain unanswered: If the local administration disappears – which was the case in many places in the Pakistan disaster area – who will coordinate the rescue and relief? If the main hospitals collapse, or is declared unsafe, where will the injured and the sick be treated?

In case water supply stops, what is the backup? If inclement weather prevails, where will the temporary shelters (tents) be set up? Given the high volume of concrete construction in the town, where are the heavy equipment needed for rescue efforts?

As of now, this is what the civil defence department here has, according to its own official report: two coils of 3" rope (260 feet), one coil of 1" rope (150 feet), ten pieces of Shard Cord (40 feet each), five shovels, five ladders (8 ft each), ten axes, five saws, 50 buckets, 20 tool boxes, and ten bicycles that require repairing.

There is also no safety drills in the schools here. A fact that cannot be overlooked when 17,000 children were killed in Pakistan, trapped in collapsed schools.

The Darjeeling Municipality surrenders its responsibility when it comes to regulating the indiscriminate growth in illegal constructions. "No matter how hard we try, it is not possible to stop the constructions," says Mr BM Subba, vice-chairman, Darjeeling Municipality lamely.

According to him, people move the courts and bring about all kinds of outside influences to ensure that their constructions are not stopped by the Municipality. He declined from saying that among these "outside influences" political is the foremost.

Mr Subba pointed out that the responsibility of relief is not vested with the Municipality.

(End of report.)