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HP's casual response towards recent catastrophe

chandigarh Updated: Jul 26, 2013 10:13 IST
SP Sharma

Responding in a casual manner towards the frequent natural calamities in the state, the Himachal Pradesh government has so far failed to set up its own proper State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and nor has it identified its police personnel for being trained by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in the mountain rescue operations./ by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

The recent flash floods in Kedarnath and areas below that claimed more than 5000 lives have apparently failed to be an eye-opener for Himachal Pradesh that itself suffered because of floods and landslides that isolated the tribal Sangla valley of Kinnaur from rest of the country.

In view of natural calamities of various nature in different parts of the country, the centre had put up a Rs.800 crore project before the Planning Commission for imparting training to men of the SDRF as raising fresh battalions of the NDRF for each state was financially unfeasible. Following the tragedy in Uttrakhand, the centre has taken steps to position freshly raised battalions of the NDRF at Haridwar in Uttrakhand and Nurpur in Himachal Pradesh that are located in the fragile Himalayas.

Of the 10 battalions of the NDRF in the country, only two are presently stationed in the North-one each in Bathinda and Ghaziabad to take care of the vast areas of UP, Uttrakhand, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Uttrakhand, Western UP, Himachal and J&K in particular are prone to flash floods and landslides.

Jammu and Kashmir that is generally accused of not responding to the problems of the common people has done a commendable job by raising its own two battalions of SDRF stationed one each in Jammu and Srinagar. The NDRF has also trained about 400 personnel in mountain rescue operations and 100 more were in the pipeline.

Punjab has also responded to the requirement and has got about 400 of its men trained by the NDRF in tackling with the floods and earthquake.

A senior officer of the NDRF said that despite exchange of letters during the past two years, the
Himachal Pradesh government has failed to get its men trained in mountain a rescue operation that was a must in view of the fragile Himalayan eco-system of the area. The state government's steps towards this direction have remained confined to setting up a state disaster management authority.

While this time the flash floods damaged the roads in the tribal Kinnaur district and also claimed a couple of lives, widespread disaster was witnessed in 1995 when more than 170 people were washed away in a flash flood in the Chirgaon area of the Shimla district. The disastrous flash flood in the Beas caused widespread damage particularly in the Kulu district where the road network was washed away and the prestigious complex of the Snow and Avalanche

Study Establishment (SASE) near Manali was buried under huge boulders that rolled with the gushing waters. The SASE was thereafter shifted to Panchkula.

Although the centre has sanctioned a separate battalion of the NDRF for Himachal Pradesh that would be stationed in Nurpur, but the strength of personnel in a battalion would not be sufficient to take care of the vast geographical area of the state. The state government t has to respond to the offer of the NDRF to train their personnel. Sources said that sometime ago the state authorities had identified Pandoh, near the Bhakhra reservoir, for training its own men, but nothing was later conveyed to the NDRF.

The centre had initially accepted a proposal to shift the Bathinda based battalion of the NDRF to Himachal Pradesh, but the move was shelved following the pressure mounted by the Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal who wanted that the NDRF should be retained at its present place because of repeated floods in the Bathinda, Mansa, Ferozepur and adjoining districts.

Jaideep Singh, commandant of the Bathinda based battalion of the NDRF, confirmed that the battalion would stay in Punjab but it was being relocated near Ludhiana where the land has been identified. Ludhiana is located in the middle of Punjab from where the NDRF can swiftly respond to any eventuality in any area or also in Himachal Pradesh.

Men of the battalion were deployed for rescue operations during the recent catastrophe in Uttrakhand. A team of the NDRF is currently deployed for the Amarnath pilgrimage in Kashmir.

With a limited number of personnel, the NDRF could not be expected to do miracles during any calamity and as such the National Disaster Managemnt Authority (NDMA) had asked the state governments to raise the SDRF that could assist the NDRF during any disaster and also cut short the response period.