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Debate on Disaster Management Bill, 2005

Debate on Disaster Management Bill, 2005 

28 November 2005 

SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI (MAHARASHTRA): Mr. Deputy Chairman Sir, I rise to felicitate and thank the Hon. Home Minister for having piloted and tabled this Bill. Had he not done it today, this House would not have had an opportunity to show that it is as much capable of an enlightened debate as it is capable of an indignant indiscipline as was observed on the first two days of this Session. 

The first point I would like to make, Sir, is I join Mr. Jalan that the amendments that have been circulated are not as the Hon. Home Minister said, simple. The amendments to Clause 22, etc., are fairly simple. But, then there are amendments which involve incorporation of whole paragraphs and several paragraphs at some places and what is required is not correcting by reading but a regular scissors and paste job where you would have to do the cut and paste job and that would not be as simple or as easy as the Hon. Home Minister made it sound. 

The second point I would like to make is, it’s a fact that we have had a number of disasters and that has made us come together and that has made us prepare a Bill. The question is, have there been disasters, and if there was no legislation on this subject up till now, how were they dealt with? I was informed by Shri Jairam Ramesh that this matter was handled in different ways up to now. The National Cadet Corps was established with a view to handling situations of civil defence. Similarly, the Home Guards and other paramilitary forces were created to handle situations of disasters, where deaths in large numbers were involved. If that is so, then, the question that arises is, is this kind of a legislation at all necessary? The important point that I would like to make is: there were two points where we were lacking so far in disaster management. One, our early warning system had failed very badly; in fact, so badly that just six months before the tsunami happened, the Ministry of Agriculture had abandoned a proposal for establishing an early warning system for disasters like tsunami. As a result, when tsunami came, we had no defence mechanism at all. The new Bill is welcome. But I would suggest very humbly to the Home Minister that in recent days I have found that whichever Bill is prepared, and as a sort of person especially interested in agriculture, I would give reference to the Seed Act or to the Bill on Food Safety and Standards, there is a stereotype that has been developed by the bureaucracy. If the title of the Bill is 'Food Safety and Standards Act', in the body of the Bill you will not find anything relating to food safety and standards. The Act would be wholly about creating an authority that is supposed to look after the problems of food safety and standards. We create a Seed Authority hoping that the Seed Authority will take care of all the problems that the seeds present. Similarly, we had another Bill here, which said about 'Empowerment of the Unorganised Sector Labour'; which also aims at creating an authority, but no further details are given. 

In the Disaster Management Bill also, finally, what we are doing is establishing an authority and a very comprehensive network, almost, I may say, a parallel Government of India and parallel federation in order to create a structure that would face a disastrous situation. Now, what we are doing is, a Government that does not work efficiently in normal times, we are creating a parallel Government, hoping that it would cope up with situations of disaster. I don't think it is likely to happen. 

And, I have reasons for this belief. I have said that the present system suffers due to lack of infrastructure. I would like to illustrate. As you know, I have lived in Switzerland for long years, and once I had the occasion of seeing what the civil defence arrangements in the city of Burn were. Burn city has a population of just 2,00,000. But there was a whole underground city built in such a way, in a sort of a basement that can house 30,000 people at any given time. And, it is so constructed that except in the case of a direct nuclear hit it will not be affected at all. We would, of course, not have measures like that because we don't have the money. But we don't even have certain administrative set up. For example, in Bihar, when we had floods, we found that a highly reputed IAS officer signed cheques in the name of one of the organizations he favoured, making it look as if it was given to a legitimate body. Similarly, in the case of tsunami, the experience is that there was an unseemly hurry to hand over cash as compensation to the relatives of those who were dead. As a result, everybody agrees, even the NGOs agree and say in their reports that many people created false claims, and showed even people who had died two or three months earlier, as dead in tsunami. A second piece of bad administration. Already the fishermen in that area were suffering from a glut in the market. And, many of them considered that the sinking and the destruction of the fishermen's boat were a sort of a Godsent opportunities. Some of the NGO's that went for relief were in an unseemly hurry to provide fishermen with boats with the result that we have, once again, a glut in the fish market there and the fishermen are obliged to trespass into non-Indian waters as of today. Now, does the Act provide for situations of this type? How are you going to stop a Chief Secretary of Patna from misappropriating the funds that you may be giving from Delhi? 

What are the Disaster Acts? What is a disaster? I tried to prepare a list. And given the fact that in Clause 2(d), a very comprehensive definition of what is disaster is given, I would not read out that list. But I would point out, very humbly, that deliberate acts of human beings that cause large-scale disasters and deaths are excluded; they are not included in this disaster. Manmade acts by accidental negligence alone are included. Well-nigh, for example, the atrocities caused by the terrorists, evidently, would not come under this definition. Probably, the intention was quite different, but the clause says that only those by accidental negligence are included, those by deliberations, those by pre-conception and conspiracy will not be included. Then, another point that would not be included is, what is called in the management sector as crisis management. For example, right now we had this man Mr. Reddy from the Border Roads Organisation, kidnapped in Afghanistan. And there were some about 24-48 hours before he was decapitated, where the Government of India should have initiated an order to find out how to negotiate and how to rescue Mr. Reddy; this was not done. Similarly, when a plane is hijacked, what is necessary is a crisis management force, which carries out the negotiations, which is able to judge from the voice of the terrorist whether they intend seriously to destroy the plane or whether they are really trying to just, sort of, blackmail us. Otherwise, what will happen is, if there is a plane accident caused by the terrorist, you would consider it as a disaster. But one step before that, and everybody emphasised that prevention is important, you would not take into account the crisis management as a part of the problem that is involved here. So, in India we have had wars and we had civil defence. This Act does not include civil defence in cases of war. This Act does not include in disaster - the cases of atrocities caused by terrorists or cases of civil strife and violence, and it does not include even the crisis management where actual negotiations have to be carried out. 

Having said that, I would request the Home Minister to make the structure slightly less top heavy. I quite admit that having the Prime Minister as the ex-officio Chairman of the National Authority has its own advantages. But there might be a situation where the Prime Minister will not be able to take part in as active a manner as he would like to otherwise. So, he might, probably, ask his Home Minister and, ultimately, it might actually fall down to, and very often it does, to the Army Officer, who has the direct knowledge and the control over the situation there. We have the National Authority, we have the State Authority, we have the District Authority and, possibly, we will have a Panchayat Authority at the village level, which will, of course, be from the employed staff. But, there is also a fund, there is a response fund and there is a mitigation fund at every level. I think, what we are trying to do is - create a parallel Government of India where the Government of India has failed in delivering goods, as Shri Jairam Ramesh admitted, even in normal circumstances. Rather than make it work in a situation of crisis, and in a situation of disaster, we are only preparing a parallel system which is likely to increase red tape and bureaucracy. And the Act, unless properly drafted, is likely to be more of a handicap than an advantage for meeting the situations of disaster. Thank you very much.