Braving the disasters

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Milind MhaiskarMilind Mhaiskar, Secretary, Relief and Rehabilitation, Govt of Maharashtra speaks about how his department is preparing to face natural and man made disasters in conversation with Nikita Apraj, ENN

Please provide us with an overview of the work that the Relief and Rehabilitation Department is doing?
The State of Maharashtra by the virtue of its geographical location and demography is vulnerable to a host of natural hazards. Urbanization and growing importance of cities like Mumbai in terms of economy has made the city susceptible to manmade disasters as well. Hence today preparing for disasters though mitigation and preparedness as well as responding to disasters in a proactive manner has become extremely important.
The Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) Department is in charge of providing relief to the affected in times of a disaster and also in rehabilitation of people from vulnerable areas after a disaster. The disaster management unit of the R&R department looks at reducing the effects of a disaster through capacity building, mitigation and preparedness by means of various programs and initiatives in the State.
The R&R dept is also coordinating the drought relief measures today in the State through providing water, fodder and compensation for agricultural losses in the affected areas.

Tell us about the State Disaster Management Plan. What new initiatives are you planning to take?
The State Disaster Management Plan has been prepared in four volumes. It has been prepared taking into account the vulnerability of the State based on past occurrences of disasters. We are currently in the process of revamping the State Disaster Management Plan based on the guidelines of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
The State Plan was prepared on before the NDMA guidelines were issued. Hence currently the plan is being revamped in association with the Centre for Disaster Management, YASHADA. The idea is to make the plan on the basis of a scientific Hazard Risk Vulnerability assessment of the State and make it much more user friendly and effective.

Please tell us about capacity building programmes you have undertaken at ground level to cope up with natural disasters.
It is necessary that you KNOW disasters to ensure that NO disasters cause huge losses to people and property. For this it is imperative that awareness about disasters is created among the people. The Maharashtra Disaster Risk Management program has been started in all the districts in the State.
The thrust of the programme is on capacity building, institutional strengthening and awareness generation through various programs, creation of search and rescue teams, and orientation of PRA members, government officials in Disaster Management etc.
Under the programme trained human resource support is provided to the districts in the form of district disaster management officers who support the district administration in carrying out all these activities related to Disaster Management.
Apart from this, the National School Safety Program is being initiated in the earthquake prone districts of Pune and Satara to build capacity of schools against earthquakes through awareness generation. Also workshops are being carried out by the Indian Meteorological Department on Hydro-meteorological and Geological disasters in the vulnerable districts in the State.

You are planning a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) in the event of Railway Motormen’s strike in Mumbai. This situation is very peculiar to the city and can serve as fertile ground for a disaster. Please elaborate on this.
The local trains are the life-line of Mumbai city. Majority of the city’s population uses the local trains to commute to their offices and back. Together the central, the harbour and the western railway lines transport lakhs of people every day. Hence in times of a railway strike, the whole city comes to a standstill.
In times of the evening especially, such a strike leads to heavy congestion on the roads leading to large traffic jams as the road infrastructure cannot handle such huge numbers of people suddenly commuting using roads.
In such situations, it becomes problematic for essential services like the ambulances or the fire brigades to commute. Hence the Disaster Management Unit of the Relief and Rehabilitation Department is coordinating the preparation of a SOP for such situations with the traffic police and other concerned departments like the transport railways, MCGM etc. The SOP involves a communication protocol and staggered dispersal of crowds.

“The disaster management unit of the R&R department looks at reducing the effects of a disaster through capacity building”

What steps you have taken to fight against man-made disasters like chemical, nuclear or radiological attacks?
These disasters primarily fall under the domain of the Home Department. However, an SOP for dealing with terrorist attacks using CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) agents has been prepared by the districts and the State Level. Also the department coordinates with the Tarapur Atomic Power station and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) in preparing for offsite plans for the power station in times of a crisis at the plant site.

How you are planning to ensure the safety of pilgrims at places of worship such as upcoming Mahakumbh at Nashik?
The Nashik Sinhasta Kumbhmela is going to be held in 2015. We had sent teams of officials from our department as well as from Nashik to the Mahakumbh at Allahabad to study the arrangements made there for the Mahakumbh and how the good practices used there could be modified to suit the scenario at Nashik. Also we are coordinating with the Nashik District Collector for preparation of plans for the Kumbh. Also a team of the NDRF will be deputed at the site for the duration of the Mela.

What new initiatives are you planning to be able to fight disasters in a better way?
The department is in the process of creation of a state-of-art Emergency Operations Centre and Unified Coordination Centre at Mantralaya and also in the districts. The purpose of the creation of this centre is to ensure optimum coordination amongst all agencies in times of a disaster for effective response and to obtain last mile connectivity for intervention in disasters.
Also we are in the process of taking up medical preparedness programs throughout the State to train medical workers and citizens to respond in terms of basic medical aid in various disasters.
The Disaster Management Unit is also in the process of setting up a state interagency group with various NGOs and CBOs to ensure that in times of a disaster, the right relief reaches the right place and there is no duplicity of relief efforts.

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