Uttarakhand is grappling with one of the worst natural disasters in recent years and has caused a great loss of lives. While it is a matter of discussion whether this disaster is entirely natural or manmade, given the indiscriminate nature of development in the region, the scale and extent of the disaster shows to some extent the unpreparedness of the authorities to cope with it. These kinds of inundations and natural occurrences have ravaged the lives and livelihoods of inhabitants with unrelenting regularity in the past in Uttarakhand. These can easily be anticipated and a more proactive approach to their management, rather than a reactive one, could easily be adopted but has not been done. Indian scientists have developed flood forecasting techniques as also early warning systems but these have not taken off largely because of the inadequacy of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). This authority has been set up to cope with precisely the natural events that have unfolded in this part of India. Yet, this agency of the government has not been fully prepared to meet the challenges that have been placed before it.
The response to the disaster could have been more prompt and better coordinated. That it is not so is not surprising given the NDMA’s lack of coherence despite the long period of time that has already been invested in setting it up. The NDMA’s lack of preparedness was made apparent to the nation earlier this year by the CAG’s performance report which had noted that this agency was ill-prepared to handle a potential natural or manmade disaster. The CAG report, tabled in April this year had noted many anomalies in the workings of the NDMA. It noted that this organisation hadn’t completed any of its major disaster preparedness projects on schedule. The report had said that the performance of the NDMA, which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs in terms of project implementation, had been abysmal as it had selected projects without proper ground work and had abandoned some projects midway owing to poor planning. According to the report, all the major risk mitigation projects initiated by the NDMA were incomplete, languishing at various stages of implementation. With the government having been lackadaisical in its approach, the NDMA has been a less than a functional and efficient organisation, whose performance must be improved.