Status of Disaster Management in India

By: Staff Reporter
Disaster management in India has undergone substantive changes in its composition, nature and policy. The Disaster Management Act, 2005, provides for setting up of a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), amongst various other provisions. The 2014 Parliamentary Standing Committee Report cites that the Authority, however, is not functioning optimally and is in urgent need of a new action plan.
Planning n Mitigation

India’s hazard profile is dependent on the geo-climatic conditions and topographic features, and the underlying vulnerabilities cause annual disasters of varying degrees like floods, droughts, cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, avalanches and forest fire in the country. It is estimated that about 59 per cent of India’s land area is prone to earthquakes and the Himalayas and adjoining areas, northeast, parts of Gujarat and Andaman Nicobar Islands are seismically most active. According to the Natural Disaster Management Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, GoI, 33 per cent of India’s area receives rainfall less than 750 mm making it chronically drought prone, while 35 per cent receives rainfall between 750-1125 mm and is assigned the drought prone status—thus a total of 68 per cent area of the country is prone to drought in varying degrees. Out of 40 million hectares of flood prone area in the county, around 7.5 million hectares are affected every year by recurring floods. While flood occurs in almost all river basins in India, large parts of states such as Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are affected almost every year. About 12 per cent land is prone to flood and river erosion; and hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches. Approximately 71 per cent (5300 km) of the 7516 km long coast of India is susceptible to cyclones. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are affected periodically due to cyclones. According to the annual report (2012-13) of Ministry of Home Affairs, out of 35 states and union territories in the country, 27 are disaster prone.

The livelihood security of the coastal communities and ecological security of the coastal zones of India are already under stress due to high population density, rapid urbanisation and industrial development, high rate of coastal environmental degradation and frequent occurrence of natural disasters such as cyclones and storms. The problem is going to be further aggravated by a rise in sea level due to global warming. The coastal zone in India, particularly the east coast is vulnerable to hydrometeorological hazards such as cyclones, floods and geophysical hazards like the tsunami.


Classifying Disasters

Disasters are classified as ‘natural’, or ‘human-induced’. For example, disasters caused by floods, droughts, tidal waves and earth tremors are generally considered natural. Disasters caused by chemical or industrial accidents, environmental pollution, transport accidents and political unrest are classified as ‘human induced’ since they are the direct result of human action. A modern and social understanding of disasters, however, views this distinction as artificial since most disasters result from the action or inaction of people and their social and economic structures. Fire incidents, industrial accidents and other manmade disasters involving chemical, biological and radioactive materials are additional hazards due to socio- economic factors. Due to the fast pace of urbanisation, modernisation and industrialisation, India is considerably vulnerable to various man-made disasters and the threats of manmade and technological disasters have also increased substantially as modern industrial units are processing, storing and transporting hazardous chemicals and hazardous materials.


Need for Mitigation

All these disasters underscore the need for strengthening mitigation, preparedness and response measures. The high disaster risk and exposure of millions of people in India makes it imperative that a national campaign on mission mode is launched to strengthen disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation efforts in India. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the basic responsibility for undertaking rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures in the event of a disaster rests with the state governments. The Central government supplements the efforts of the state by providing logistic and financial support in case of severe natural calamities. The government has brought about a change in the approach to disaster management from a relief-centric to a holistic and integrated approach covering the entire gamut of disasters encompassing prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation. The approach is based on the conviction that development cannot be sustainable unless disaster mitigation is built into the development process. Therefore, ‘disaster management’ is not confined to ‘disaster response’ alone.

The Disaster Management Act

The Indian government has enacted the Disaster Management (DM) Act in 2005 which defines disaster as “a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”.


Institutional Mechanism

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 lays down the institutional mechanism for drawing up and monitoring the implementation of the disaster management plans, ensuring measures by various wings of the government for prevention and mitigation of the effects of disasters and prompt response to any disaster situation. The Ministry of Home Affairs constituted a task force to gather information from the states and other stakeholders on their perception in implementation of the Disaster Management Act 2005, to study the global best practices, to hold consultations with stakeholders and to suggest necessary modifications, if any, in the Act.  The said task force submitted its report, and its recommendations are under consideration of the government.

The Act also provides for setting up of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, state disaster management authorities (SDMAs) under the chairmanship of chief ministers and district disaster management authorities (DDMAs) under the chairmanship of collectors/ district magistrates/deputy commissioners. The Act further provides for the constitution of a National Executive Committee (NEC), headed by Union Home Secretary, the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). It also provides for the concerned ministries and departments to draw up their own disaster management plans in accordance with the national plan. The Act also provides for a specific role for local bodies in disaster management.

The beginnings of an institutional structure for disaster management can be traced to the British period following the series of disasters such as famines of 1900, 1905, 1907 and 1943, and the Bihar-Nepal earthquake of 1937. Over the past century, disaster management in India has undergone substantive changes in its composition, nature and policy. During the British administration, relief departments were set up for emergencies during disasters. Such an activity-based setup with a reactive approach was functional only during the post disaster scenarios. The policy was relief-oriented and activities included designing the relief codes and initialising food for work programmes. Post-Independence, the task for managing disasters continued to rest with the relief commissioners in each state, who functioned under the central relief commissioner, with their role limited to delegation of relief material and money in the affected areas. Every five-year plan addressed flood disasters under ‘Irrigation, Command Area Development and Flood Control’. The disaster management structure was thus activity-based and functioned under relief departments.

A permanent and institutionalised setup began during 1990s with the set up of a disaster management cell under the Central Ministry of Agriculture, following the declaration of the decade of 1990 as the ‘International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction’ (IDNDR) by the UN General Assembly. Following a series of disasters such as Latur Earthquake (1993), Malpa Landslide (1994), Orissa Super Cyclone (1999) and Bhuj Earthquake (2001), a committee under the chairmanship of J C Pant, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture was constituted for drawing up a systematic, comprehensive and holistic approach towards disasters. There was a shift in policy from an approach of relief through financial aid to a holistic one for addressing disaster management. Consequently, the disaster management division was shifted to the Ministry of Home Affairs and a hierarchical structure for disaster management evolved in India.


The Role of NDMA

The NDMA is mandated to perform the following functions:

  • Approve the National Plan; n Approve plans prepared by the ministries or departments of the Indian government in accordance with the National Plan; n Lay down guidelines to be followed by the state authorities in drawing up the state plan; n Lay down guidelines to be followed by the different ministries or departments of the Indian government for the purpose of integrating the measures for prevention of disaster or the mitigation of its effects in their development plans and projects; n Coordinate the enforcement and implementation of the policy and plan for disaster management; n Recommend provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation; n Provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters as may be determined by the Central government;
  • Take such other measures for the prevention of disaster, or the mitigation, or preparedness and capacity building for dealing with the threatening disaster situation or disaster as it may consider necessary, and; n Lay down broad policies and guidelines for the functioning of the NIDM.


NDMA’s Failures

The 2014 Parliamentary Standing Committee is surprised that despite NDMA being constituted in 2006 under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, it has not framed its business rules pertaining to internal conduct of NDMA and it is only after the observation of Comptroller and Auditer General (C&AG) that in an internal meeting of NDMA a decision was taken to follow the provisions of Manual of Office Procedure of the Indian Government.

The C&AG in its Report observed that the Disaster Management Act provided for the NDMA to constitute an advisory committee consisting of experts in the field of disaster management, having practical experience of disaster management at the national, state or district level to make recommendations on different aspects of disaster management. The advisory committee with 12 members was constituted in June 2007, the term being initially fixed for a period of two years followed by an extension of a year which expired on 14 June 2010. NDMA functioned without the services of the advisory committee thereafter.

The C&AG made its observation that the Working Group of Planning Commission in December 2006 recommended various projects to be taken up by NDMA during the 11th Five Year Plan for disaster management categorised as:

n Projects on vulnerability assessment and microzonation of major cities; n  Mitigation Projects; n Communication network projects, and; n Other projects.

The performance of the NDMA in terms of project implementation has been abysmal. Out of 10 projects which were identified during the 11th Five Year Plan, four are yet to be approved and one project i.e. National Earthquake Risk Mitigation Project has been approved on 5th April, 2013. Out of the remaining five projects which were sanctioned during 11th Five Year Plan, only one project viz. micro-zonation of major cities has been completed and the remaining four are still under various stages of implementation. This is a sorry state of working of the NDMA which has been mandated to perform functions relating to disaster management.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides for recommending provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation. In cases of disasters of severe magnitude, NDMA should recommend relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans to the persons affected by disasters on such concessional terms as may be appropriate. Till 2012, NDMA had not initiated any action for recommending relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans to the persons affected by disaster.

The C&AG observed that as per extant GoI rules for appointing consultants, the terms of reference (ToR) of consultants should be prepared which include precise statement of objectives; tasks to be carried out; schedule for completion of tasks and final outputs that will be required of them. It was noted that NDMA appointed 13 consultants in different areas of specialisation. They were  however engaged in day to day work in NDMA with no specified tasks assigned. Their tenures were also renewed routinely.



The parliamentary committee is of the view that the Government must give due consideration to strengthen the district disaster management authority so that the district authority is in a position to act as the first effective responder. The Committee also views that the Disaster Risk Reduction Programme must be implemented at the grassroot level keeping in view that the district collector administers Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MNREGA)and other land related programmes. District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs) should try to fill up vacancies on a regular basis and calls for an organisational structure at the district level to address disaster management in a holistic manner.

The Committee acclaims the role of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in combating the major disasters occurring in the country including the Uttarakhand episode. To bring continuity into the system, the Committee recommends that the tenure of experienced NDRF personnel be extended beyond normal deputation period of 5 years to 7-10 years.

The Committee is of the view that NIDM should act as centre for excellence so far as capacity building for effective disaster management is concerned. The Committee is of the view that NIDM should function as an autonomous body in respect of its entrusted activities and human resource practice and not as a subordinate organisation of either NDMA or MHA.

The Committee further believes that information and training on ways to better respond to and mitigate disasters to the responders should go a long way in building the capacity and resilience of the country to reduce and prevent disasters. Training is an integral part of capacity building, as trained personnel respond much better to different disasters and appreciate the need for preventive measures. Professional training in disaster management should be built into the existing pedagogic research and education. Specialised courses for disaster management may also be developed by universities and professional teaching institutions, and disaster management should be treated as a distinct academic and professional discipline. The Committee recommends that NIDM may be entrusted with this task. Specific components in professional and specialised courses like medicine, nursing, engineering, environmental sciences, architecture, and town and country planning could also find a place in the curriculum.

Capacity building should not be limited to professionals and personnel involved in disaster management, but should also focus on building the knowledge, attitude and skills of a community to cope with the effects of disasters. Capacity building for effective disaster management therefore needs to be linked to the community and local level responders on one hand and also to the institutional mechanism of the state and the nation on the other. Satellite imagery has become an important tool for decision makers in getting alerts for disasters and in assessing the situation pre and post disaster. These capabilities need further refinement and intensification to enable functionaries at the district level to take appropriate and timely decisions. Therefore, the concerned departments viz., science and technology, earth sciences and space research organisations need to be strengthened to provide advanced and effective information on disasters. It is also necessary to create a national platform for sharing, using and disseminating the data.

The Committee is also of the view that training modules and calendars to upgrade the skills of personnel, NGOs and communities engaged in disaster prevention and mitigation should be taken. The government should prioritise assessment of structural and non-structural safety of school buildings and identify necessary mitigative action to be included in the school safety programme.

The Committee notes that the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has prepared a comprehensive proposal of Rs 360 crores for an Integrated Himalayan Meteorological Programme both for Western and Central Himalayas, including locating adequate number of Doppler radars and Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) for monitoring hydro-meteorology, and submitted the same to the Central Government/Planning Commission for approval. It is also important that globally practiced mitigation efforts of the identified high hazard zones must be fully supported and funded by the Union Government.

The Committee feels the need for a road map for reconstruction and rehabilitation and future strategy to overcome such natural disasters. In this connection, the following steps may be considered:

n Need for a multi modal transport system; n Network of airstrips and heliports; n Adequate number of air ambulances;  n Network of godowns with built in shelters for providing food security to the stranded population; n Scientific extraction of river bed material to ward off expansion of river channels, and;  n Augmentation of wireless, satellite and ham communication systems and installation of high performance computers and Doppler Radars and Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) and other systems.

The Committee notes that the State Government of Uttarakhand has constituted an expert group to examine the  issue of tourism and carrying capacity of remote pilgrimage/tourist sites with a view to issue guidelines in the matter. The Committee feels that registration of pilgrims should also be examined.


The Parliamentary Committee takes into account  the fact that  in the incidents of the disasters of similar magnitude in USA and Japan, the loss of lives is much less as compared to that in India. The Committee, therefore, observes that prevention and mitigation should contribute to the lasting improvement in evolving safety, and the same should be integrated in disaster management.  The Committee is of the view that the National Response Plan, National Human Resource and Capacity Development Plan and Mitigation Plans may be finalised at the earliest and adopted by respective nodal ministries. The Committee hopes that with all measures undertaken, the government will ensure that hazards do not turn into disasters.


Abstracted from: Report No. 178 of the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, Rajya Sabha. The Report was presented to the House on 19th February 2014.

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