Punjab: Civil defence incapacitated without funds, staff

  • Harpreet Kaur, Hindustan Times, Hoshiarpur
  • Updated: May 06, 2015 21:44 IST

Shortly after assuming office, Union home minister Rajnath Singh had launched a Rs 290 crore plan to mainstream civil defence for disaster risk reduction with every state being allocated a share of funds to implement the scheme under the 12th Five Year Plan.

Punjab too was promised Rs 2 crore but the amount has not been released as of March 31.

"We are ready with a roadmap to revamp the organisation but due to non-arrival of funds the plan has not yet taken off," admitted SK Sharma, commandant general, Punjab home guards. Sharma is also the director of the state civil defence.

Civil defence was conceived as a second line of defence during wartime through legislation in 1968. The definition of civil defence was amended in 2009 to extend its scope to social welfare activities such as providing relief to victims of natural calamities or human induced disasters and its units were set up in 100 districts across the country.

Recently the ministry of home affairs had included 140 more districts in its plan list, considering that civil defence could play a significant role to create public awareness and prepare the community to respond to catastrophic situations.

The National Disaster Management policy envisages among other things, the upgradation of training infrastructure, capacity building at the grassroot level and involvement of corporate and private sectors.

Civil defence volunteers are enrolled at the district level but they are not trained for rescue operations, first aid, relief work or mobilisation of community help in times of natural disasters.

As per earthquake hazard map, most part of Punjab falls in seismically active zone and is prone to floods but activities such as local warnings and community evacuation are hardly practised. The participation of volunteers in social welfare activities such as blood donation and first-aid camps has also declined. At best the volunteer force is used for pulse polio drives.

While the government has come up with a specialised training institute for civil defence and home guards at Sundra in Mohali's Dera Bassi tehsil with modern training equipment, it has also provided the districts gadgets such as generator, commando lights, cutters, ropes and life jackets but local training, workshops, mock drills or demonstrations have never been carried out.

The civil defence office in Hoshiarpur, for instance, does not have a store. The twin departments of home guards and civil defence run out of a single room in the mini-secretariat. The department has neither adequate staff nor funds to manage affairs. The two Bolero jeeps and a motorcycle are lying dysfunctional due to shortage of fuel budget.

"The vehicles are strictly meant for civil defence works, so these cannot be used by home guards," informed a source. The office electricity bill was paid recently after more than two years.

District chief warden of civil defence, Lokesh Puri rued that the government does little to motivate the members."We have nearly 65 members in the organisation, who have to pay from their pockets even for the renewal of their identity cards. The only training held at Dera Bassi so far was scheduled in the working days which the members found difficult to join. At local level there are no formal meetings of the civil defence unit, though we keep conducting informal meets at our own end," said Puri.

District magistrate and home guards commandant respectively serve as the controller and commander of civil defence in the district. Neither of the two were available for comments.

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