When vast swathes of Tamil Nadu, including capital Chennai, was battered by unprecedented floods last week, the first challenge for the authorities was to find enough trained personnel for rescue and relief operations. And this despite the fact that Tamil Nadu has its own State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) to tackle such situations.
Around the same time, neighbouring Andhra Pradesh — also hit by floods along its coastal areas — had to urgently seek out the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) for rescue and relief as the state is yet to set up its own SDRF.
Despite the NDMA’s (National Disaster Management Authority) urgent calls to all states to set up their own DRFs, most are yet to do so which, experts say, is a recipe for disaster in a country prone to natural calamities.
“Every state should have its specialised rescue force at their disposal. As disasters happen without any warning, it is important to have these local response teams,” says Marri Sasidhar Reddy, former vice-chairman of the NDMA.
Official sources say Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are yet to form their SDRFs. Andhra Pradesh’s case is all the more stark as it was only a year ago that cyclone Hudhud devastated Vizag in October 2014.
And exactly a year before Hudud, former CM Kiran Kumar Reddy had announced plans to set up an SDRF when cyclone Phailin battered the coastal region in October 2013.
An NDMA member pointed out that even the states that have set up the SDRFs, “there are not enough personnel recruited or trained to be efficient”.
A retired Chennai police official said though the SDRF was deployed promptly during the recent floods, the force’s strength and training left a lot to be desired.
Disaster management experts point out that the nine states straddling India’s more than 7,500 km-long coastline are constantly at risk from cyclones, tsunamis or rain-induced floods, and having their own SDRFs is a must.
Also, since the NDRF teams are based only in a few states, vital time is lost before they can reach the disaster zones in case of an emergency.
Coastal areas apart, many landlocked states too are ill-prepared to face calamities like floods and earthquakes. While Haryana has its SDRF in place, big states like UP and Chhattisgarh are yet to raise the vital force.
“We are going to set up the state disaster response force as asked by the NDMA. We will do so soon,” Uttar Pradesh chief secretary Alok Ranjan said.
A senior police official in Chhattisgarh spoke on similar lines saying the force will be ready soon.
(With inputs from Raipur, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Chennai)