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Kerala Flood: a grim reminder of why India must revise the NDRF guidelines

The NDRF procedure of assessment not only neglects the fact that during natural disasters like Kerala Flood, time is most precious.

If you want to see what devastation really is, look at Kerala. The southern state which is also popularly known as God’s own country is suffering from the worst ever flooding since 1924. The catastrophic monsoon rain has wrecked a havoc in the state with several districts of the state submerging in water. The human casualty has reached 164, while many stranded people are turning to social media to ask for help.

Over the past week, Kerala lost 8,316 crores worth of economic assets. The unremitting showers led to a horrific landslide that damaged many houses, roads and other infrastructure. As many as 60,000 people have been shifted to makeshift relief camps. However, as the downpour continues the water has started entering into some of the relief camps. Though the intensity of the rainfall has receded, according to the India Meteorological Department it may increase again till August 17. Following the prediction, the state has issued a red alert in all thirteen districts except Kasaragod.

Kerala flood

The incessant rainfall has led to filling of most of the water reservoirs in the state. However, as the water level reached the danger mark, the gates of reservoirs in the Idukki system, a giant hydroelectric project, and several other dams were opened which swamped the downstream habitations alongside the rivers.

In the cases such as this where the public life at large is affected by the cataclysmic crisis, the government is the insurer of the last resort for the citizens. Over the past few weeks, several legislators from the state have demanded that the crisis should be declared as the National Calamity. A fresh request was made for the same by VS Achuthanandan, Administrative Reforms Commission chairman. Last month, CPM leader P Karunakaran had raised this issue in the Lok Sabha.

He informed the Lower House of parliament that this is one of the worst floods in the history of Kerala considering the large-scale devastation across various parts of the state. He had even said that centre should provide funds beyond what is due under the NDRF. The centre did, however, release interim relief of 100 crores for the state but the state government retorted back saying that for the damage and destruction that scales up to almost 8000 crores of loss, the relief amount is meagre.

Kerala Monsoon
Aerial View of Kerala during the flood

Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in a tweet lashed out saying that the Immediate mitigation and rectification expenditure to the state is around Rs. 3,000 crores. “The central grant precious Rs. 100. And that too if it is from regular disaster management fund due to Kerala, I don’t know!” he tweeted.

His response came after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday announced that the Centre will be granting 100 crores interim relief to the state. Rajnath Singh tweeted, “I understand the suffering of the people of Kerala from the present crisis. Since the assessment of the damage will take time, I hereby announce immediate relief as an advance of Rs. 100 crores,” the home minister had said on Sunday.

Though natural disasters occur unannounced and there is no measure to speculate on the amount of damage it can cause, the Indian government has a framework in place regarding the relief work. The legal framework deals with the responsibilities of state as well as central governments while carrying out relief works. It lays down guidelines as to when the centre can intervene in the relief work and when the state has to fare on its own.

The guidelines on constitution and administration of the state disaster response fund and national disaster response fund issued by the Ministry of Home affairs in 2010 lists the procedure to be followed for the assessment of the disasters.

According to the guidelines, once the state government requests for central government’s help in case the SDRF isn’t sufficient, the memorandum first goes through preliminary examination.  If it reveals that there are enough funds in the SDRF then the state is advised accordingly. In case, the preliminary examination finds that the state needs assistance then a central team is put on the job of on the spot assessment. The report of the central team is then examined by the National Executive Committee which is then sent to a High-Level Committee. This committee approves the quantum of immediate relief.

Kerala Flood

Furthermore, only the natural disasters that are considered to be of “severe nature” by the Indian government qualify for the relief fund by the Centre. Here, the guidelines leave a loose end as to what should and should not be considered as a severity by the Indian government. This also means unless it is assessed that the disaster is of severe nature- the process for which is lengthy and time-consuming, central help will not arrive.

The procedure of assessment not only neglects the fact that in case of natural disasters time is most precious but also withdraws from the reality that it risks thousands of lives by indulging in bureaucracy. The delayed action cost innocent civilians their lives as it happened in case of Kerala floods or even during cyclone Ockhi.

Kerala Flood

You can find the entire document here: Guidelines for National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF)

The centre though did not declare it as a “national calamity” as requested by Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu but acknowledged the cyclone as “rare and extraordinary”, which again has different norms.  This leads to the killing of valuable time. By the time Centre and state resolve as to who would perform what responsibility, the damage would have done. What can be the more apt example of this than the 2014 Jammu Floods or the 2013 Uttarakhand deluge? The relief did come but it was already late and the scale of human and infrastructure casualty has gone up.

The governments cannot divorce itself from the fact that mere providing relief is not enough. Providing it on time has to be the priority.

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