CAG had warned last year about Uttarakhand crisis in making

A CAG report dated March 15, 2013 had found Uttarakhand sitting on a time bomb, with nearly zero disaster preparedness back in Sept 2012 when the nationwide performance audit was done. Will other states, marked equally poorly in the audit, sit up and smell the coffee?

uhimanshu

Himanshu Upadhyaya | June 27, 2013


After flood, a dam being built in Srinagar, Uttarakhand
After flood, a dam being built in Srinagar, Uttarakhand

The massive disaster in Uttarakhand has brought to the fore not only the old debate of ecology versus development but also thrown up questions on how both the past and present governments in the state failed to deliver in the fields of disaster management and risk reduction.

The comptroller and auditor general (CAG) of India’s performance audit report on disaster preparedness in India ( read Report No. 5 of 2013 here) had drawn attention to unpardonable negligence by the state, as well as the nation.

Dated March 15 this year, the audit report bears former CAG boss Vinod Rai’s signature.

According to the audit, while the state disaster management authority (SDMA) was constituted in October 2007, it had not formulated any rules, regulations, policies, and guidelines. Worse, as on September 2012, Uttarakhand SDMA had not met even once since its constitution five years before!

Similarly, the state advisory committee on disaster management met only once after it was constituted in February 2008. The state executive committee was formed in January 2008 but had not met even once since its creation, the CAG report stated.

The state government did not sanction any post for the SDMA, which affected the establishment of the management information service. For district emergency operations centre, only 66 of the required 117 posts were filled in 13 districts. The state disaster management plan (SDMP) was still under preparation at the time of the performance audit and it was found that no actionable programmes were prepared for various disasters, though NDMA guidelines for preparation of SDMP were issued in July 2007.

The audit found that no plan was prepared in the state for early warning and the communication system was inadequate. Requisite tools and mechanism for providing early warning of impending disaster were also not in place. This had clearly led to situations when critical information reached vulnerable populations after considerable delay.

Test-check of records indicated that due to inadequacy of reliable communication system, sharing of disaster information was delayed by more than three hours in 50 to 86 percent cases.

In order to strengthen early warning indicators related to disasters in Uttarakhand, the Centre had sanctioned two doppler radars in June 2008. The radars were to be purchased, installed and manned by the Indian Meteorology Department, with the state government responsible for making land available.
According to the auditors, these radars could not be installed as of August 2012 due to non-availability of land in Nainital and Mussoorie!

Similarly, while procurement of equipment for the airborne laser terrain mapping and digital camera system took place in 2004 and expenditure worth Rs 23.75 crore incurred till June 2012, the survey covered less than 10 percent of flood-prone areas. Further, no survey was conducted after August 2010, it was found.

Warning on unregulated hydropower dam given in 2009

In 2009, CAG performed an audit of hydel projects in Uttarakhand (read it here) and concluded: “Audit scrutiny of project records revealed that no specific measures had been planned/designed in any project to cope with the risk of ?ash ?oods. The adverse consequences of such floods are acute as they can not only damage the project structures but can cause loss of life in low-lying downstream areas. Civil construction in projects is required to factor in this natural threat. Also, the bigger the project, the greater should be the efficacy of the preventive measures.”

CAG reports on Uttarakhand clearly voiced the concern of audit teams over the fragile ecology of the hill-state – not once but repeatedly, and not just on the issue of hydropower dams but also deforestation.

However, what is not known as yet is how the public accounts committee dealt with the criticism of state’s development intoxication. The 2009 audit report was not allowed to be tabled in Uttarakhand assembly amid uproar by members. Those who joined the chorus that day need to re-examine their position today. Will they think of governance rather than trying to play that environment versus development card?

Gujarat’s track record equally bleak

While reporting on the disaster in Uttarakhand, a section of media has overzealously amplified chief minister Narendra Modi’s claims of flying back 15,000 Gujaratis safely. If only they had carefully read the CAG’s performance audit report on the state of disaster management in the country – which ironically the same newspaper featured as front page news a couple of days before splashing Modi’s flying-Gujaratis-home story – they would have realised that Gujarat is no better when it comes to disaster preparedness and risk reduction.

If the state disaster management authority in Uttarakhand never met after its constitution, in Gujarat it had met only twice – in August 2007 and August 2010 – during the five-year period between 2007 and 2012, the same audit reported. Worse, the report had highlighted irregularities in the management of state disaster response fund in Gujarat.

The auditors found that authorities had incurred inadmissible expenditure worth Rs 236.95 crore. While the audit report mentions other states also for having indulged in inadmissible expenditure, quantum found in the case Gujarat has a distinct aura of being the highest.

However, that is not all. The audit had also noticed that the national disaster response fund (NDRF) was utilised for various purposes other than those stated in the government guidelines. ‘On account’ (which means interim releases pending processing of proposal and subject to adjustment against further assistance under NDRF) releases of Rs 654.04 crore in case of Gujarat, Assam and Goa, from NCCF (now renamed NDRF) were lying unspent with these states. But instead of asking the errant states to return the ‘unspent balance’ to national fund, these amounts were deemed adjusted against ‘further future assistance’.

Audit scrutiny revealed that Gujarat has been sitting over the unspent balance amounting to Rs 350 crore since 2006-07 and Assam accounting for another Rs 300 crore since 2008-09. The decision of considering these amounts as adjusted against ‘further future assistance’ would clearly result in depriving the states in dire crisis the chance to get proportionate disbursal from the national fund to that extent, while the violators can continue to play to the gallery.
One cannot help wonder if this should not make us question the propaganda from PM enthusiast Narendra Modi, who has been showing off the United Nations Sasakawa Award in 2003 to Gujarat for “outstanding work in the field of disaster management and risk reduction”!

Will NDMA write a white paper on self?

Let’s also revisit what the CAG recommendations had desired NDMA and other agencies to accomplish to implement the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in letter and spirit. It had asked NDMA to complete its project on ‘vulnerability assessment and risk analysis’. NDMA was also asked to ensure completion of national disaster communication network and national disaster management information system projects.

It also asked ministry of water resources to ensure preparation of emergency action plans of states covering all major dams. This was necessary to be taken up on priority, as audit scrutiny had revealed that only eight states had prepared emergency action plans for 192 large dams against the targeted 4,728 large dams in 29 states as of September 2011. Audit had also found that the central water commission provided inflow forecasts for only 28 reservoirs and barrages. It had also noticed that shortcomings reported in evaluation studies of schemes of flood control was not rectified by the ministry of water resources.

It had asked the department of space to ensure the national database for emergency management is made operational at the earliest. The Indian space research organisation (ISRO) was asked to fully operationalise the satellite-based disaster management system communication network and installation of doppler radars at the earliest.

Unless we put reflection and demanding the real governance performance rather than high decibel rhetorical one and until we train ourselves to learn from history, we would be condemned to face disasters – and worse still our unpreparedness and rescue and relief centric approach - at regular frequency repeatedly.

LESSONS FOR OTHER STATES

The NDMA and other agencies need to come forward and tell citizens how many recommendations they have acted upon so far, and what the roadmap is in the wake of the Uttarakhand disaster. Here are some pointers, culled from the CAG report:

ANDHRA PRADESH: State and district disaster management authorities were constituted in November 2007, but only three meetings held as on September 2012. The state disaster management plan was also found to be at a draft stage during audit scrutiny.

MAHARASHTRA: SDMA was constituted in May 2006, and district-level disaster management authorities in June 2006. The Greater Mumbai disaster management authority, though, was constituted only in January 2011. In a twist of irony, a blaze at state secretariat that occurred while the performance audit meant many details relating to disaster preparedness and working of SDMA was not provided for audit.

Significantly the audit scrutiny stressed on finding that the development control regulation-1991 for Mumbai city was based on the erstwhile national building code. These were not updated on the lines of national building code, 2005 – meant to provide safeguards against natural hazards.

ODISHA: SDMA was constituted in 2010 (afresh in consonance with the NDM Act, 2005, although it had existed as an autonomous body since December 1999). Shockingly, the SDMA had not met since reconstitution even once as on September 2012. Neither the state disaster management plan was prepared nor the crisis management committee for dam safety, under chairmanship of the state’s chief secretary, had been formed till then. Moreover, the state disaster management policy formulated in March 2005 did not include manmade disasters. Audit scrutiny also revealed large-scale financial irregularities, such as non-submission of utilisation certificates for Rs 526.42 crore by agencies, departments and OSDMA for the period ranging from one to five years and inadmissible expenditure worth Rs 53.83 crore.

RAJASTHAN: The advisory committee for SDMA was not constituted, SDMP had not been finalised and state policy for disaster management was only at the draft stage only.

TAMIL NADU: Constituted in September 2008, the SDMA but had not met even once as on September 2012. State executive committee was constituted in January 2009, but met only once in June 2009. Districts DMAs constituted in January 2012 after a delay of six years in January 2012 and it had not met even once. Neither state disaster management plan nor rules were prepared.

WEST BENGAL: SDMA and district-level DMAs were notified in August 2007. Draft state disaster manage plan was prepared in 2008-09 and updated again in 2009-10, but is not approved as yet by SDMA, which had had met only once, in September 2008, since its constitution. State advisory committee was constituted in April 2010 but had never met as on September 2012. Auditors also found inadmissible expenditure of Rs 47.70 crore.

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