Less than two years ago, Punjab wasted an opportunity to set up the National Disaster Response Force Centre by failing to provide land for the purpose.
Consequently, the project was handed over to the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh, where the centre is coming up at Mashobra on the outskirts of Shimla. Had the centre been in place in Punjab, the Jalandhar factory disaster could have been handled effectively.
In September 2010, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had asked the Punjab government to provide land for the project, but the latter only offered to facilitate land acquisition. “We had no land to spare for the centre. So, we proposed to help the NDMA acquire land,” said a senior officer of the state government.
“Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also the NDMA chairman, mentioning five sites for the centre, but there was no response. Later, we came to know that the project had been handed over to Himachal Pradesh,” the official added.
After Sunday’s tragedy, Badal has offered to provide 50 to 60 acres for setting up the centre in Punjab. “The centre is needed to accommodate a sufficient number of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) companies to combat any such unforeseen eventualities or natural disasters like floods and earthquake,” Badal said after his visit to Jalandhar.
The government has reportedly asked director, disaster management, Punjab, Gurdev Singh Sidhu, who is presently attending a workshop on ‘Best practices in disaster management’ in Delhi, to take up the issue of setting up the centre in Punjab. Sidhu was also told to make arrangements for heavy earth-moving machinery to clear the factory debris, but the NDMA said such machinery could add to the casualties.
Presently, NDRF companies are temporarily based at Bathinda in the southern part of the state. If the centre is set up at a central location, in or around Ludhiana district, the reaction time to deal with a disaster anywhere in the state can be reduced substantially.
Talking to HT, Sidhu said the army, stationed in almost every district of the state, was quick to react to such disasters.