The Modi government’s decision to scale down the status of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) members this week was aimed at discouraging influential retired civil servants from pulling strings to get a status upgrade at the cost of the country’s disaster preparedness.
The home ministry on Thursday notified amendments to the rules to scale down the status of the NDMA vice chairman from a cabinet minister to a cabinet secretary-rank, and its members to a secretary-rank. NDMA members earlier held the rank of a minister of state.
The move was the first step towards reinventing the NDMA that had been pending approval since the UPA’s tenure.
The Prime Minister’s Office under Manmohan Singh had refused to play ball and had returned the file back to then home minister Sushilkumar Shinde. Instead, the UPA had appointed several members including a former CBI officer to the authority as members.
This week’s order indicates that the Modi government was willing to take a hard look at the authority that many believe had been used by the UPA government to park influential retired civil servants. “Some of them were really good and very active… the rest just enjoyed the perks,” said a senior government official.
The clean-up at the authority, however, had started much earlier. On July 30, the home ministry quietly amended the rules to give itself the power to sack NDMA members. The government is yet to invoke this provision against NDMA member Dr Muzaffar Ahmed who retired as head of J&K health services. He has refused to take the hint so far.
In its report to the government last year, the task force headed by PK Mishra — now additional principal secretary to the PM — had recommended an overhaul of NDMA’s role and functions.
Government sources indicate some of this could be achieved by executive instructions.
The idea is to have the NDMA a lot more focused on disaster prevention and mitigation.
In this area, it should have the autonomy and be held accountable. As part of this concept, the Centre would like the home ministry to unambiguously remain the first, and the last word on disaster response, particularly in terms of control over the National Disaster Response Force.