Millennium Post

Catastrophes and the welfare state

Nothing can underscore the importance of a state in control of public assets and services as a natural calamity. Catastrophes need concerted and coordinated action to meet time-bound requirements and there are really very few alternatives to government-orchestrated rescue and relief, not only because of the scope and span of the operations concerned, but also because such unrestricted access cannot be expected, shouldn’t be expected, from private profit-making corporations. As is seen in the case of Kashmir floods, had it not been for the tireless contributions from Indian Army, Indian Air Force and workers with National Disaster Relief Fund, the death toll would have crossed thousands and the scale of destruction would have been even greater.

Over 47,000 people have been rescued so far from affected parts of Jammu and Kashmir, but more than 4 lakh remain stranded in the middle of all the watery nowhere. The biggest-ever rescue operation to evacuate the victims, restore road connectivity, distribution of food, water, blankets, tents, sanitation facilities, baby food, medicines and first-aid kits, among other essentials, has yielded results, and minimised the losses, especially of lives. The conjoint effort has been matched by crucial appearances of the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and the Army chief at the right time, assuring people of complete support from the centre, and sanctioning at the nick of time the much-needed Rs 1,000 crore additional relief for this ‘national disaster.’ Images of army personnel carrying women and children on their shoulders and pulling boats through flooded regions and even over rocky boulders have inundated our Kashmir consciousness, giving an added layer to the multi-dimensional relationship between the Indian armed forces and the state of J&K.

Only government services such as BSNL mobile network provided the significant connecting link when phone and power lines went down because of flooding. The communication shutdown notwithstanding, the otherwise slow and inefficient ‘public services’ became the shock absorbers and prevented the state from hurtling towards absolute breakdown. Moreover, Air India’s decision to allow free passage of anyone stranded in the J&K floods is another commendable action from the state. Stupendously enough, apart from a few private chopper companies chipping in to do their two pence for the relief mission, there has been a deafening silence on the part of the biggest private corporations. Where is their commitment to social welfare in these trying times? What has been their role in alleviating the current crisis in the paradisiacal Kashmir valley, or the ten districts of Jammu? While private corporations had held the previous regime in the centre practically on their pay roll, we need to know if things will be any different under the present dispensation. It is important that disaster relief is made mandatory for all big corporations, especially since they get a formidable share of the national resource pie.              

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