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An Integrative Approach to Disaster Management in India

Kedarnath FELPR


With world’s largest population and the fastest growing large economy, India has to balance its development needs with the sensitivity of the vast and diverse ecological concerns across the country. We need to build a safe, disaster and climate resilient country, pursue sustainable development and for that the policies and laws both at international and national level have to nudge us in that direction. We need science, policy and action to be in conformity with each other and for that there is a strong need to have an integrated approach with involvement of policy makers, planners, scientific fraternity and communities to work together to achieve our above stated objectives.

In the international context, India is committed to attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), party to Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) and Paris Agreement. The goals and objectives of all these international agreements are interlinked and interdependent. We can pursue sustainable development only if we take a climate and disaster resilient approach to infrastructure development. The SFDRR recognizes that to meet the SDGs and to protect the development gains from disaster there is a need to take concrete actions to minimize disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of services, by developing their resilience. Meeting targets under SFDRR are contingent upon resilient infrastructure. Resilient infrastructure systems must respond to the climate mitigation agenda while simultaneously increasing social equity, public health, and human well-being (IPCC, 2022). The whole idea of “resilience” of infrastructure hinges on the adaptation of infrastructure development to future climate scenarios.

Every Indian is entitled to access to food, shelter, healthcare facilities, education, social, and economic development. Access to infrastructure is the foundation on which human beings can pursue the goal of personal, social, economic development and thus overall well-being. Unless the infrastructure is sustainable and dependable, it cannot become the foundation for people’s pursuit of their developmental goals. Sustainability of infrastructure, its resilience to climate and disaster is essential for ensuring equity and equal access to people to various opportunities all across the country. This is also the motive behind the precautionary principle which is one of the main pillars of environmental jurisprudence in the country.

So, to pursue a path of development that is sustainable, resilient to both climate and disaster is not only necessary in view of the legal obligations at both international and national level but also equitable, just, and fair.

India’s Disaster Risks

India’s National Policy on Disaster Management (NPDM) states;

58.6 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of moderate to very high intensity; over 40 million hectares (12 per cent of land) is prone to floods and river erosion; of the 7,516 km long coastline, close to 5,700 km is prone to cyclones and tsunamis; 68 per cent of the cultivable area is vulnerable to drought and hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches. Vulnerability to disasters/ emergencies of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) origin also exists. Heightened vulnerabilities to disaster risks can be related to expanding population, urbanization and industrialization, development within high-risk zones, environmental degradation and climate change

India is evidently prone to multi hazard vulnerability in varying degrees; from nature-induced hazards, on account of its unique physiographic, geo-climatic and socio-economic conditions to human-induced disasters/emergencies like any other country. To deal with human induced disasters and emergencies there are several laws, rules and regulations which regulate the use of substances or activities that could prove disastrous if not handled with utmost care and precautions[1] e.g.

  • to regulate the disaster of fire there are the Boilers Act 1923, the Inflammable substances Act 1952,
  • to regulate use of  explosives we have the Explosives Substances Act 1908 (amended in 2001), Petroleum Act 1934, Atomic energy Act 1962,
  • to manage floods, dam bursts, tsunamis and cyclones there is Dam safety Act 2021, Coastal Zone Regulations under EPA 1986,
  • to deal with earthquake, snow avalanches and landslides there are Indian Standards on Earthquake Engineering, Town and Country Planning Acts, Building Bye Laws, National Building Code of India 2005,
  • to prevent chemical, industrial disasters there are safe handling and disposal Rules
  • to prevent biomedical disaster there are Solid Waste Management Rules, Rules for handing Biomedical Wastes under EPA.

These subject specific laws, rules and regulations are to ensure that these activities or substances are done or handled in a safe manner without causing any harm to human life and environment to prevent human induced disasters.

Evidently we cannot regulate natural disasters but can of course ensure that we are prepared to deal with them in the least disruptive manner so that the loss to human lives and infrastructure can be minimised. It is important to acknowledge that in the modern times the boundaries between natural and manmade disasters are blurring and there are more and more instances where natural hazards are turning in to unnatural disasters due to human folly or negligence. Our actions or lack of action in the name of development in total disregard of the nature in most cases is to be blamed for these unnatural disasters emanating from natural hazards. There are of course ‘natural’ hazards such as cyclones, floods, drought, landslides and earthquakes but generally by themselves they do not cause disaster but they are getting converted into disasters of varying magnitude depending upon the vulnerabilities and the lacking of coping capacities of the communities involved.  The development plans, policies and laws that underpin them too play a pivotal role in making of these disasters.

Need to Pursue Risk Informed Development

The interconnection between disasters and unregulated development has become increasingly pronounced and visible. Whether it is Joshimath, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Chennai or Bangalore, everywhere human activity directly or indirectly is responsible for amplifying their own vulnerability to these disasters thereby exacerbating the consequences of natural hazards. Indiscriminate and unsustainable patterns of human consumption, production and development have the potential to increase human vulnerability to natural disasters. We also know that disaster when strikes impacts the poor the most as they have the least resources or are most ill-equipped or have the least capacity to deal with the loss. This is true both in international as well as in national context. Poor countries are badly affected, and among them the poorest are the worst affected. In fact disasters contribute to social, economic, cultural and political disruptions in its own specific way and becomes a cause of inequality or aggravates and perpetuates inequality.

It is now well understood and recognized that “disaster risk” is mostly systemic in nature and that development must be risk-informed and also risk averse to be sustainable. There is a need to understand the vulnerability of a given geography, carry out its risk assessment to various disasters. Equipped with the knowledge about the risk assessment and the vulnerability of a given place, geography, community, infrastructure we then need to use either the mitigation or preventive measures so that human life and property can be saved or loss minimised in case of a disaster. Just to illustrate with example in the case of Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) we already have information and knowledge that the likely natural disasters are landslide, flash-floods, extreme weather conditions, cloud bursts, subsidence, seismic vulnerability etc. We need to make sure that whenever we are undertaking any infrastructure project or wherever people are building houses the construction is done keeping in mind the slope of the mountain, its seismic vulnerability, the landslide and subsidence proneness of the site and that we do not build in the way of the floods. Our building construction code needs to be followed for hill slopes and for seismic vulnerable areas.

Pillars of Disaster Management

The full continuum of a meaningful and effective disaster management strategy in a country from prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response as in relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, development and prevention again must be guided by reduction of human and physical losses. It is a multi-stakeholder, dynamic task which needs cooperation and coordination of many disparate stakeholders. The institutional framework for disaster management at the state and the central level will have to play the coordinating roles with much more gusto and proactive approach. This by any measure is a very tall ask. How do we ensure all of this? The most potent tool for social engineering is admittedly behavioural change amongst all stakeholder which is an outcome of their awareness and sensitisation about the entire continuum of disaster management. The most important nudge for bringing about this change is the legal mandate.

We therefore need categorical and unambiguous laws and policies and robust institutional mechanisms in place to create the requisite legal mandate and need cooperation and coordination amongst all disparate stakeholders. There are several ministries and departments of the government at both central and state level that need to work together with several other govt. and non-government organisations, scientific and technical institutions, regional and sub-regional organisations, NGOs and local level institutions of self-governance and multitude of communities to achieve this goal. There are several laws, policies, rules and regulations spread across various authorities that in the first place have to have a harmonious collective mandate which then  needs to be effectively enforced.

Prevention and mitigation of disaster are usually opportunities that are available at the time of planning and development, much before a disaster strikes. Scientific information, knowledge and technology are tools that we need to make use of to inform our decisions. Mitigation could however be both structural or non-structural. Structural mitigation measures would include engineering measures and construction of hazard resistant and protective structures and infrastructure and the latter refers to policies, regulatory measures, knowledge development, land use planning programme, dissemination of information and behavioural changes. There are different agencies and departments involved in planning and development of projects in our country. So different subject matter laws have to have the requisite mandate to make our planning and development process not only cognisant but also making sure that it is resilient to climate and disaster risk. Town and Country Planning Acts, the building codes, the institutions of local self-governance, the disaster management institutional framework, the infrastructure development laws need to have robust, categorical mandate in this regard.

Preparedness is an ongoing process and needs active community participation including the most vulnerable sections, women and socially disadvantaged sections of the society. Traditional knowledge, practices and values of local communities for disaster reduction should be incorporated in the disaster management strategies.

A successful disaster management should be pro-active instead of reactive, technology-driven,

multi-hazard and multi-sectoral strategy and built in to the development process of the country.

Disaster Management Act  2005 (DMA)

Disaster Management Act  2005 (DMA) has established both the institutional, regulatory and coordinating framework for disaster management in the country. Coordinating framework is acknowledgement of the fact that disaster management is a multi-stakeholder activity and needs coordinating amongst disparate govt and non govt agencies as has been stated above. This is the umbrella legislation when it comes to disaster management in the country. There are laws which regulate activities that can cause disaster like Dam safety Act 2021, Atomic Energy Act 1962, Public Liability Insurance Act 1991, and these laws have mandate for disaster management vis a vis that activity and its consequences but when disaster strikes it’s the institutional machinery under DMA that takes over. The EIA under EPA could also be used as a tool to identify risks to natural and man-made disasters to a given project and then add the prevention, mitigation and preparedness strategies in the EMP if the project is given clearance. In the alternative District Disaster Management Authority and State Disaster Management Authority can play a significant role if they are given power to screen all development projects from disaster perspective in their respective jurisdiction. Much wisened up NHAI in district Kullu in HP after facing flak from all quarters for unscientific cutting of mountains on the National Highways being constructed by them in HP, in a first, have reached out to the district administration to seek their guidance and help to finalise the road alignment on the left bank of river Beas after the recent catastrophe. This should have been the SOP as the administration would have access to HRVCA analysis and the Public Works Department of the state have the invaluable experience of making roads in this hill state for many decades which should be utilised while making new roads.

Disaster Management Defined Comprehensively

DMA very aptly defines ‘Disaster management’ as a continuous and integrated process of planning, organising, coordinating and implementing measures necessary to:

  1. prevent the danger or threat of a disaster;
  2. mitigating or reducing the risk of a disaster or its severity or its consequences;
  3. capacity-building;
  4. preparedness to deal with a disaster;
  5. prompt responses to any threatening disaster situation or a disaster;
  6. assessing the severity or magnitude of effects of any disaster;
  7. evacuation, rescue or relief;
  8. and rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The law covers all the four pillars and envisages a comprehensive system to respond to a disaster in a holistic manner. What actually happens on the ground is however not in conformity with what one would expect. Our disaster management is mostly about response and that too falls short of the mandate many a times. Though under the vision @2047 of Prime Minister disaster risk reduction system in the country is to be strengthened to make India disaster resilient. What is wrong with the system can only be understood if we dissect a disaster, start from the place of a  disaster and go backwards to know what exactly went wrong at what stage. We need to understand our preparation before occurrence of a disaster and how we perform after it strikes.

Institutional Framework Under DMA

DMA has set up a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA housed in Ministry of Home Affairs) headed by none other than the PM, State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) at state levels headed by the state Chief Ministers and District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) at district level headed by the District Magistrates or the Deputy Commissioner. NDMA is the apex body that lays down policies, plans and guidelines to ensure a timely and effective response to disasters. There is an advisory committee constituting of experts in the field of disaster management for NDMA. There is a National Executive Committee (NEC) to assist the NDMA in performing its functions. NEC is responsible for making a ‘National Plan’ for disaster management, in consultation with state governments and expert bodies or organisations.

Central govt has constituted National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) as per the mandate of DMA to meet the expenses for any emergency response, relief or rehabilitation by NEC. The fund shall include an amount provided by the central government as well as grants by persons or institutions. State and district authorities are mandated to constitute the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and District Disaster Response Fund (DDRF), respectively. SDRF has been constituted in each State and is’ the primary fund available with State Governments for responses to notified disasters[2]. Allocation of SDRF funds to the States is based on multiple factors like past expenditure, area, population, and disaster risk index.  These factors reflect States’ institutional capacity, risk exposure, and hazard and vulnerability. Based on the 15th Finance Commission recommendations[3], the Central Government has allocated Rs. 1,28,122.40 crore for SDRF for years 2021-22 to 2025-26.  Out of this amount, the Central Government’s share is Rs.98,080.80 crore. 

There is a National Disaster Mitigation Fund (NDMF) exclusively for projects for mitigation of disasters and shall be at the disposal of the NDMA. Similarly at the state and the district level there are State Disaster Mitigation Fund (SDMF)[4] and District Disaster Mitigation Fund. So far, 25 States have set up SDMF. For SDMF, an amount of Rs. 32,031 crore has been allocated for the period 2021-22 to 2025-26[5].  Irrespective of the consistent demands from states, various finance commissions did not recognize mitigation funding as an integral part of disaster risk funding as a result mitigation was left up to the centrally sponsored schemes. However 15th Finance Commission allocated finances for the disaster mitigation funds.

SDMA is assisted by advisory committee comprising of experts in the field of disaster management[6] and the state executive committee and one of the most important functions of the state executive committee is to examine the vulnerability of different parts of the State to different forms of disasters and specify measures to be taken for their prevention or mitigation. This state committee is the pivot on which the entire disaster management in the state depends upon. They are mandated to evaluate preparedness at all governmental or non-governmental levels to respond to any threatening disaster situation or disaster and give directions, where necessary, for enhancing such preparedness; coordinate response in the event of any threatening disaster situation or disaster; give directions to any Department of the Government of the State or any other authority or body in the State regarding actions to be taken in response to any threatening disaster situation or disaster; ensure that communication systems are in order and the disaster management drills are carried out periodically amongst many other specific tasks that they have been entrusted with under the DMA.

The Centre has raised an 18,000-strong National Disaster Response Force which is instantly deployed at any place which faces an imminent threat to a disaster or is struck with an actual disaster. NDRF is a dedicated force for disaster response related duties, under the unified command of DG NDRF.

Under the DMA National Institute for Disaster Management (NIDM) has been set up which has nodal responsibilities for human resource development, capacity building, training, research, documentation and policy advocacy in the field of disaster management. NIDM has issued a document titled “ Training Module for Mainstreaming DRR in Development Planning” which is of critical importance. There is Indian Disaster Resource Network (IDRN) which is a web based nationwide information system for district level resource and is a platform for managing the inventory for equipments’, skilled human resources and critical supplies for emergency response. This database enables decision makers to assess the level of preparedness for specific vulnerabilities.

National/State/District/Ministerial/Departmental Policy and Plan on Disaster Management

India has National Policy on Disaster Management (NPDM) and a National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) which was first made in 2009 and was updated in 2016. The NDMP 2016 is based on five main pillars incorporating the legal mandate created by the DMA and NPDM, principles of three main international agreements i.e. SFDRR, SDG and Paris Agreement that India is party to, Prime Minister’s Ten Point Agenda for DRR, Social inclusion as a ubiquitous and cross-cutting principle and mainstreaming DRR as an integral feature of our development planning. Development should focus on reducing disaster risks and not create them is the mantra of PM’s Ten Point Agenda (which in nut shell also brings out the essence of a successful disaster management strategy) for DRR articulating contemporary national priories. What is being done in terms of planning, organising, coordinating and implementing measures necessary to prevent the danger or threat of a disaster is all covered under the ambit of DRR.

All states have followed suit by making their own disaster management policies and plans. All Ministries and Departments at both central and all state levels have their own disaster management plans. We have Cabinet Committee on Management of Natural Calamities (CCMNC) and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). There is National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), comprising high level officials of the GoI headed by the Cabinet Secretary, to deal with major crises which have serious or national ramifications. It is supported by the Crisis Management Groups (CMG) of the Central nodal Ministries and assisted by NEC as may be necessary. The Secretary, NDMA may be a member of this Committee. There are technical Organizations such as the Indian Meteorological Department (cyclone/earthquake), Central Water Commission (floods), Building and Material Promotion Council (construction laws), Bureau of Indian Standards (norms), Defence Research & Development Organization (nuclear/biological), Directorate General Civil Defence (provide specific technical support to coordination of disaster response ).  There are nodal ministries responsible for various disasters at national level.

The point being made over here is that we have more than adequate systems in place for disaster management in the country though our track record for managing disasters might not sound as impressive.

How Are We Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction(DRR) in Development Planning?

DRR is about shifting focus from managing disasters to managing risks causing disasters. It requires a paradigm shift in the way we live, build, plan, and invest. DRR can be achieved through systematic efforts to analyse and reduce the causal factors of disasters. Reducing exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improving preparedness and early warning for adverse events are all examples of disaster risk reduction.[7]

Who will undertake DRR analysis, is an important question that does not have a simple answer. The question about DRR’s institutional location is fraught with complexity as disaster is a cross-cutting issue and therefore DRR is not a remit of a particular department. Each specific ministry and department shall have to do their own DRR in development planning depending upon the Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (HRVCA) and its impact on their field. HRVCA is a process of identifying, assessing and prioritising the potential hazards and risks faced by a community or a population, and analysing their underlying vulnerabilities to develop effective mitigation and preparedness strategies in disaster management. Since risk informed development and therefore risk sensitive planning is the only way forward, we need detailed HRVCA of all districts in the country and the risks would also include the ones being either exacerbated or caused due to climate change. Ministry of Finance has issued an office memorandum advising all the line ministries and departments to undertake risk assessment as a mandatory input in planning and programming activities in their respective sectors. These are very welcome developments and carry immense potential to help intensify the mainstreaming efforts and outcomes. We could combine the climate risk reduction and climate adaptation requirements together.

There is an urgent need for planning stage convergence of different authorities so that when we conceive and plan for any development all concerns regarding disaster and climate resilience are also factored in and the project reaches the implementation stage only after getting a green signal on these accounts also. The SDMA could be the nodal agency and a single window clearance authority of all projects and activities from the disaster risk reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) perspective. Whilst there are some distinctions between the scopes of DDR and CCA, a key area of similarity is focus on vulnerability reduction and the enhancement of resilience which could be leveraged by amalgamating both.

Disaster Management on the Ground

Despite having such a comprehensive institutional system and plethora of rules and regulations it makes an interesting study to see how we actually perform when a disaster strikes. Whenever a disaster strikes, it hits a particular geography which falls in a village, a tehsil, a sub-division, a town or a city in a district so the first responders after the community are the village, local and the district administration. These officials and planners need right information which reaches them in a timely manner and also resources and tools to combat the disastrous consequences. The availability of such information/tools can only be a result of preparedness initiatives. So for both DRR and post disaster management the local and district administration are crucial components.

Let’s dissect some disasters

How did the Sikkim SDMA fare during the recent GLOF induced flood in Sikkim?

RiskAuthority Responsible or should have knownAction should have takenWhat happened
Existence of a glacial lakeNDMA, SDMA, DDMA CWC and other monitoring agenciesAll the concerned authorities should have been vigilantEveryone knew in the system but nothing was done
Glacial lake increasing in sizeMonitoring agency if it was being monitoredShould have been monitored closely and real time data shared with all concernedNo one was monitoring
Incessant rains and GLOFIMD, CWCEarly warning should have been issuedNothing concrete was done
EWSWas there any?Warning should have been disseminated to down-stream, towns communities and damsNo EWS
Vulnerability of downstream communitiesNo informationNothing doneNo Information shared
Vulnerability of 1200 MW HEPNo informationNothing done or was done too lateNo information shared
Disaster strikesWe watch helplesslyNothing done 

Was anything done to mitigate the impact of the GLOF which was admittedly anticipated? Did our system work the way it is envisaged?

Let’s have a look at the state of HP. Both SDMA and DDMAs in the state became operational only in 2016 and its evolution and functioning as envisioned in the law and policy has been rather tardy even since then mainly due to lack of dedicated and adequate funding. As of today the institutional framework for disaster management in the state at the state level includes SDMA, State disaster advisory committee, State executive committee (SEC), State crisis management group, State emergency control room, Centre for disaster management HIPA. At the district level there is DDMA, District crisis management group, District disaster management committee and task forces, District disaster management advisory committee, Sub divisional level disaster management committee, Tehsil level disaster management committee, Village level disaster management committee, Incidence response system, District emergency operation centre, Forecasting and early warning agencies for which there are different nodal agencies for various hazards. For floods and flash flood CWC for heavy rain IMD for landslide Geological survey of India for earthquake IMD issue warnings.

The state policy for disaster management 2012 envisages HRVA studies to be done up to tehsil and local level. There is HRVA analysis done district wise and we have taken up District Kullu in the state for our case study.

District Kullu has a document called “Hazard profile of district Kullu[1]”. It seems to have been made around 2016 or 2017 as data till that year has been included in the document. Types of hazards for the district  have been identified under different broad categories. For example the total area of the district has been shown under four different categories  from severe to very high to unlikely for landslide vulnerability in the district. There is a table which enumerates the landslide hotspot areas but the source of that information is not mentioned. Under the floods hazard hotspots of flood prone areas within the district are identified. Cloud burst is also identified as a hazard and hotspots for the same are also identified in the profile study. Dam failure is identified as a hazard but there is no information about the same in the document. It would be illuminating to know how recent floods and landslides in the district matched with the data mentioned in the hazard profile of district Kullu. In the vulnerability analysis which is a sub part of the hazard profile report construction activity associated with hydro power projects has been identified as impacting the fragile ecology of the state. In the capacity analysis infrastructure and resources of various govt departments, home guards and civil defence, CBOs and NGOs, army and paramilitary forces, air landing sites and helipads, nearest NRDF unit, IMD regional office etc have been enumerated. 

This profile does not have any granular data and the data is not updated. For actionable points the data in the report has to be updated and information very specific to the last possible mile. This report talks of all hazards and vulnerabilities only at the district level whereas the policy mandates mapping of the same till tehsil and local level. The district administration does not have either requisite expertise or funds to carry out these studies. There doesn’t seem to be any system in place to get these studies done at regular interval following a standard procedure as should be the case in all districts all across the country. Panchayats should be involved in these studies as communities’ are at the receiving end of the consequences of these hazards and also the first ones to observe and experience any adverse impacts of climate change or any natural hazard.

There is a ‘District Disaster Management Plan Kullu -2017’[1]  (DDMP) running in to 266 pages made with the support and help of NDMA and UNDP. The plan is made as per the Hazard Risk Vulnerability Analysis of distt Kullu. It states that the said plan shall be updated annually (though the first DDMP was made in 2011, which was updated in 2014) with feedback and inputs by stakeholder departments and that it has been made with a multidisciplinary and participatory approach. Under the gaps in the existing capacity to deal with disasters many issues have been highlighted important amongst them being;Lack of awareness at all levels of functionaries, elected representatives and the general public regarding disaster management.Lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities of various departments and stakeholders regarding disastersDRR not integrated in to developmental planning and programmesExisting construction in the district not hazard resistantHuge infrastructure has come along the major river course of the district making them vulnerable to flash floods.Non existence of quick response team and lack of adequate communication resources like SAR MFA etc 

The DDMP has tabulated specific structural and non-structural measures that different departments are required to take to mitigate impacts of different hazards that the district is prone to and all these efforts are required to be coordinated by the DDMA. Under the head floods, flood plain zoning to regulate land use in the flood plains has been mentioned as a non- structural measure and zoning of landslide areas for regulating land use under the hazard landslide. None of these specific measures have been taken. DDMP illustrates with examples where DRR are being proposed to be  integrated with flagship programmes of GOI. Under MGNRGA utilisation of funds will be encouraged for activities to reduce the vulnerability or the disaster risk of panchayat vis a vis natural hazards such as landslide, drought, cloud burst earthquake etc. Under PMGAY application of hazard resistant design in construction of houses would be encouraged, provision for cross drainage, slope stabilization, protection work to be included in multihazard and especially flood to be used in landslide prone area.

We don’t see any evidence of this getting translated on the ground.

DDMP also has SOPs and checklist designed to guide and initiate immediate action. Incident response team is immediately supposed to spring in to action as soon as some incident happens as per the incident response system [8]which is headed by the Responsible Officer(RO) who happens to be the DC in the district. It is not clear whether this system has been designed keeping in mind the ground realities in terms of availability of staff or an ideal case scenario as there are 24 teams formed under IRS in a district under various govt functionaries involving the DC to the bill clerk at the block level.

The HP policy is very eloquent on urban disaster and its management; regarding safety of critical infrastructure. The state policy envisages plethora of disaster management plans but when the disaster struck nothing worked as planned. The policy also envisages real time dissemination of early warning to the all the stakeholders, authorities, DMTs, QRTs, threatened community etc. In the recent disaster in the Kullu district it was discovered that the only EWS that the EOC was depending upon was the SMS and when the networks were not functional the EWS also collapsed. The information about devastation in village Sainj, one of the worst affected areas, reached the EOC when people walked to Kullu, the district headquarters after two days.  The policy aims at setting up emergency operation centres (EOCs) in line with the national emergency communication plan and national disaster management information and communication system at district level. The EOCs would have fail-safe communication network with multiple levels of built-in redundancy having communication to ensure voice, data and video transfer.

EOC Kullu works from a makeshift room in the SDM office without adequate facilities for its staff who are supposed to keep it running 24×7, 365 days. When disaster struck the district the EOC didn’t have enough satellite phones, they had to organise a few from other districts. The district has three satellite phones in total which too are not of the best possible quality. The wireless system doesn’t work at the time of inclement weather. EOC Kullu works 24×7 with a staff of ten people who are not employees of the state.

In fact we discovered that there is no dedicated cadre for disaster management in the country and all institutions from the central till the district level are working with adhoc/contractual employees. These people find it tough to discharge their responsibilities especially when conducting awareness and sensitisation campaigns for line departments as they are not taken seriously due to the adhochism that is attributed with disaster management.

The policy states that the land use planning and regulation in the state would be guided by the hazard, vulnerability and risk analysis and environmental considerations. It goes to the extent of saying that the existing master development plans and zoning regulations would need to be reviewed and modified wherever needed in view of the HRVA analysis. The SEC is empowered to examine the construction, in any local area in the State and ensure that standards laid for construction to prevent disasters are being complied with. Similar responsibilities have also been cast upon the DDMA. The Town and Country Planning Act, regulations issued under the ibid Act, Municipal Corporation and other Urban Local Bodies regulations and building byelaws warranting amendments are mandated to be brought in conformity with the DM Act, 2005. Safe construction guidelines are mandated to be reviewed periodically to identify safety gaps from seismic, flood, landslide and other disasters and suitable modifications are required to be made to align them to building codes of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

 How was the preparedness to combat disaster in the state of Himachal Pradesh when it saw itself grappling with unprecedented rains, cloud bursts and subsidence in July-August 2023? Did the state committee  know that Shimla was prone to subsidence? If yes what did they do?Is the state committee not mandated to carry out vulnerability of different parts of the State to different forms of disasters? Did the state committee know that River Beas is prone to flooding and there was extremely heavy rain anticipated? Was the existing IMD, CWC and SASE network in the state useful in making timely weather forecast regarding extremely heavy rains?  

We need to ask some questions not to put anyone in the dock but because it is important that we learn lessons from our experience and equip ourselves better to deal with a similar situation or a situation which could be worse for the next time.

21 out of 23 dams in HP have been issued notices for various violations under Dam Safety Act. Early warning systems of most of the dams were not working. Was it not in the fitness of things to expect from the state committee to ensure preparedness of all entities in the state to respond promptly and adequately at a time of disaster?

Visit any website of any SDMA or the NDMA, everywhere it is proudly declared that a paradigm shift has now taken place from the relief centric syndrome to holistic and integrated approach with emphasis on prevention, mitigation and preparedness. On the ground the approach still to a large extent seems like reactive and relief centric at least that’s what was witnessed in both HP and Sikkim recently and in Uttrakhand in 2013 where CAG had also castigated the Uttrakhand disaster management system.

Himachal Pradesh State Disaster Management Plan (HPSDMP)

HPSDMP was first made in 2012 then updated in 2017 and 2020, it was the first for Himalayan States[9]. The plan analyses the hazards, risks and vulnerabilities for natural and manmade disasters and provides a blueprint for disaster management covering the pre-disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness and  post-disaster response, recovery and reconstruction. Himachal Pradesh is among the few States of India that have at hand a comprehensive analysis of hazards, vulnerabilities and risks of disasters in the State. This analysis is in a higher resolution on a digitized format based on GIS and is available online for all the departments of the State Government, district administration, stakeholders and the general public. The State Disaster Management Plan has been prepared on the basis of risk assessment. There are a lot of mitigation measures recommended for earthquake and landslide in the state which include policy intervention including revision and adoption of model building bye laws, revision of town planning bye -laws and model land use bye laws in the state. Plan tabulates action points for disaster preparedness within stipulated time frame. One of the action points stated therein is to have advanced flood forecasting and early warning system for riverine, flash and GLOFs will be set up with assistance of concerned agencies of central government, Irrigation and PHE and Science and technology department were made the nodal agencies and this was to be accomplished in 5 years’ time. The State Government shall request Ministry of Earth Sciences/ Ministry of Science & Technology to develop state-of-art landslide early warning system for HP and the responsibility of the same was given to the revenue DM and other concerned departments and the same was also to be accomplished din 5 years’ time.

Unfortunately none of the timelines mentioned in this plan have been kept.

From IHR perspective

Some of the hazards from IHR perspective; landslides, snow avalanche, GLOFs, Floods and Earthquakes have detailed guidelines regarding their management. For landslides there is a risk management strategy[10] which was formulated towards fulfilling the fifth target of Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-30).

The need of the hour is coherence amongst various scientific organisations, planning and  executing agencies and a monitoring system that ensures that all development passes through the screening test to ensure that it is disaster resilient and adapted to climate change over and above other environmental concerns as are being addressed under EIA. The EIA has to be made suitable to the needs of the IHR.


The last few years have taught us that the catastrophes that we used to consider as once in a century events are recurrent and what we regarded as having no discernible cause, or were being attributed to “acts of god” or “force majeure”, are in fact anthropogenic in nature. However, the developmental aspirations of the largest country on the planet cannot be contained even on threat of widespread destruction. The only way forward is to integrate developmental planning with disaster preparedness.

This means that our reaction to disasters cannot be an afterthought or stand upon some ad hoc mechanism. Legislations, rules, and regulatory mechanisms relating to all other types of human activities should factor in the possibility of disasters they are likely to encounter. They should also ensure that they do not be the cause for another disaster.

This will not only help prevent and mitigate disasters but also make the developmental infrastructure resilient and thus more dependable.

[1] The examples are only illustrative in nature.

[2] The Central Government contributes 75% to the SDRF in general States and 90% in North-East and Himalayan States


[4] With regard to criteria of allocation/ release of SDMF, it is stated that the corpus of SDMF is contributed by the Government of India and the State Government in the ratio 75:25 for all States, except for the North-Eastern and Himalayan (NE&H) States, for which it is contributed 90:10. 


[6] In the case of HP all members of advisory committee are government servants. No independent expert member has been appointed .


[8] See annex VI and Annex VII of DDMP of District Kullu HP


[10] Inputs were also provided by Geological Survey of India (GSI), National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), Defence Terrain Research Laboratory (DTRL)-DRDO, Remote Sensing Application Centre (RSAC)- UP, Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), Amrita University, Delhi University, Kumaun University, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI)-ICAR, Tehri Hydro Dam Corporation (THDC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment & Sustainable Development (GBPNIHESD), World Bank, Geohazards International (GHI), Save the Hills, National Centre for People’s Actions in Disaster Preparedness (NCPDP).

The article was selected for 6th World Congress on Disaster Management (WCDM 2023) held at Dehradun, Uttarakhand and has been shortlisted for publication in a scopus indexed journal by WCDM. It was authored by FELPR.