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Kerala Floods: Is our disaster response system flawed?

Arti Ghargi

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Kerala Floods

The Kerala floods is a grim reminder that India’s disaster management policy is flawed.

 

Amidst the ongoing rescue operation in Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted an aerial survey of the state. The southern state is suffering from the worst ever deluge since 1924. The catastrophic monsoon rain has wrecked a havoc in the state with several districts of the state submerging in the water. The state has suffered losses to the tune of 19000 crores while the human casualty in the devastating Kerala Floods has reached 324.

The Kerala floods is a grim reminder that India’s disaster management policy is flawed. While the centre and states are trying their best to carry out the disaster relief work, the framework has restricted them on many fronts.  In the wake of 2013 Uttarakhand floods that took as many as 5000 lives and Jammu floods in which as many as 300 were declared dead; the government of India launched the National Disaster Management Plan in June 2016. The plan was drafted ten long years after the Disaster Management Act came into force.

Kerala Floods

The National Disaster Management Plan or NDMP was aimed at making India disaster resilient and reducing the loss of human lives and assets significantly. According to the government, the NDMP was based on Sendai framework which had also been adopted by the UN member-states at the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015 in Japan’s Sendai.

The plan is said to cover all stages of disaster management- Right from prevention, mitigation, response to recovery. The official statement also said that it would provide a framework to reduce bureaucracy and provide for horizontal and vertical integration among all the agencies and departments of the government. The plan is based on the four priority themes of the Sendai Framework that are- A. understanding the disaster risk  B. improving disaster risk governance, C. investing in disaster risk reduction and D. disaster preparedness.

kerala

Though it says that the plan has been developed on the lines of Sendai framework, there are several flaws in the NDMP. First and foremost is the general and vague identification of activities in case of disaster. The plan also fails to set up pragmatic guidelines for the disaster relief. The major problem as pointed out by PG Dhar Chakrabarti, The Energy and Resources Institute fellow is, it does not set up a particular target or clear goals with respect to resource mobilisation and implementation of disaster relief activities. He further points out that the plan does not provide a particular time frame for undertaking these activities beyond vaguely prescribing that these must be taken up in short, medium, mid- and long-term basis. To sum up, the NDMP leaves many loose ends, similar to the NDRF guidelines.

The NDMP mentions under the para 4.6 mentions that the “Central Government supplements their (state government) efforts through logistic and financial support during ‘severe’ disasters as requested by the State Governments.” However, it does not provide any parameters to determine what situation has to be considered severe. This kills a lot of time which is especially precious during large-scale disasters. By the time help arrives, the damage would have been done.

Kerala

This again takes us to the question of whether India is equipped in case of massive scale natural/ manmade disasters. The answer is No. The most perfect example of this is the Kerala Floods. The disaster relief work faced hurdles due to non-availability of the base to land for choppers/Helicopters. The bad weather and consistent rain hampered the relief work. In such a situation, boats were the only option for evacuation. However, as pointed out by Kerala MLA from Chengannur, Saji Cherian, the NDRF boats were useless as they were too small. He said, “If the fishermen had not arrived in time, then it would have been a catastrophe.” There was also a huge gap between the demands made by the state government and assistance provided by the centre to carry out relief work.

Kerala floods are just a recent example. There are many such incidents in the past devastating enough for the Indian government to realise that India’s disaster preparedness has still a long way to go.

 

 

 

Opinion

RSS conclave: Did Mohan Bhagwat take a sly dig at PM Modi?

Arti Ghargi

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rss

In those 80 minutes of speech, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat stumped the critiques and supporters an equal number of times.

 

If yesterday’s speech of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is to be described with a phrase, it has to be a “package of surprises”. After all the antagonism and vilification thrown out at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh– the ideological fountainhead of the ruling BJP, by (yet to be) united opposition, the RSS presented itself as an all-embracing, truly democratic organization. In those 80 minutes of speech, the sarsanghchalak stumped the critiques and supporters an equal number of times.

“Congress played a big role in the freedom movement and gave India many great personalities,” Mohan Bhagwat said. This comes at a time when Congress has frequently questioned RSS/BJP’s contribution in the freedom movement. On the other hand, the ruling BJP had time and again invoked Congress’ contribution in the last 70 years of independence.

Mohan Bhagwat

Image source: Web

The first speech at the 3-day event titled “Bhavishya ka Bharat-an RSS Perspective” seemed like an attempt by the organization to clear the alleged misconceptions about it from the minds of people. Bhagwat further made a statement on the topic of diversity. “India’s diversity must be respected, celebrated and it should not be a reason for any discord in society,” the RSS chief said. The organization has been time and again accused of causing disharmony in the Indian society by furthering the Hindutva agenda.

Calling the organization democratic, the Sarsanghchalak reiterated that the organization believes in “Yukt Bharat, not mukt” (inclusion not an exclusion). This is the second time that the RSS chief has re-established this. Earlier, at a book launch event in Pune on April 1, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat had said, “Congress-mukt Bharat is merely a political slogan. It is not the language of RSS.” Underlining the inclusiveness of RSS, Bhagwat had even said that RSS does not believe in such political slogans which talk about excluding anyone.

The comments made by RSS chief have come in the wake of several comments made by the BJP top leadership which often refers to the “Congress-mukt Bharat” including Prime minister Modi himself.

Bhagwat

Mohan Bhagwat on the Day 1 of RSS Conclave

If this is not the clear sign of RSS showing a significant detour from the BJP, then what is? If there’s still room left for any doubt, then one must read what Mohan Bhagwat said further. Talking about what people think about the organization, Bhagwat said that people often tell him that the organization is becoming faceless. “We want to be faceless so that we don’t become arrogant. If tomorrow pictures of Mohan Bhagwat start getting published in newspapers, it will be a matter of concern for Mohan Bhagwat,” said Bhagwat in reply. Out of all the subtle hints that the Sarsanghchalak dropped, this particular statement has to be the highlight. Was it a sly dig at once RSS worker, now PM Narendra Modi? There is hardly any chance that it is not!

In our earlier article titled, ‘Is Mohan Bhagwat drifting away from BJP?’ we elaborated that RSS fears Modi’s omnipresence may also outgrow that of Sangh’s. The RSS insiders also say that the Sangh is not much flattered with the Modi’s autocratic leadership style. Modi’s tenure has already seen the BJP decimating the alliance parties. In the last four years, BJP’s existence has been limited to the Modi-Shah duo. Narendra Modi has become the only face of the party and the government.

RSS

There has also been a significant shift in the party’s attitude which not only it reeks of arrogance but also egomania. Remember, during Atal Kalash Yatra, every front page advertisement in the newspapers and posters had big pictures of Modi and Shah while the picture of late. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was nowhere to be seen. Was the sarsanghchalak’s comment made in this regard? Or else, was it a warning bell for the Modi-Shah duo?

Taking a significant shift from BJP-who has been constantly playing up the Mughal invasion card on the opposition, Bhagwat recalled the teachings of Dr. Hedgewar-the founder of the Sangh. He said, “Dr. Hedgewar (the founding chief of the RSS) always used to say for how long will we blame the Muslim invaders and British for our state. How did it happen that a handful of invaders from thousands of miles away conquered this nation of warriors? He used to say there is some problem with you which you need to correct.”

These statements force more eyeballs to turn as they come in the light of Lok Sabha Elections. The importance of the booth-level RSS worker is tried and tested. Not only in Lok Sabha elections of 20114 but also subsequent assembly elections and even Tripura Assembly Election where the saffron storm took over the red bastion. Thus, RSS which has only grown in size since independence hinting at a shift in its political approach is a major political development in waiting.

Will RSS back Modi again? The chances are very scarce. Is it trying to cozy up with the opposition? Maybe. The opposition’s response to the invitation of Sangh’s event by turning it down says volume. However, the three days RSS event is sure to gather more steam.

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Opinion

Should student elections be limited to concerned Universities?

Arti Ghargi

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It is not wrong if one may see student elections as the Launchpad for mainstream or national politics- a ticket to have a national exposure.

The recently concluded Delhi University Student Union Elections and Jawaharlal Nehru University Elections were among the topmost news last week. So much so, that the results of DUSU Elections were a top trend on the social media sites like Twitter. #DUSUElection2018 was trending all over the Twitter. For someone who has been part of Universities other than Delhi University or JNU, the amount of coverage and impetus the Student Body elections get, comes with a package of astonishment and a lot of important questions. Why in the first place, the DUSU, and JNU election get so much importance? There are total 819 odd universities in India enrolling lakhs of students. Why is it that we rarely hear about the student elections from any other university? And most importantly, do the student elections from Universities really matter in a national political arena?

Left

Image Source: Web

India has a long history of student movements and indeed a very successful and powerful one. Right from India’s freedom movement in which youth and college-going students took part in large numbers to the most recent Anti-Corruption Movement led by Anna Hazare, the student involvement was something that was at the core of why the movements gained importance. Thus, student politics and student elections remain a point of fascination. There are even people who readily equate the outcomes of DUSU Elections and JNU elections to that of national politics and mood of the nation at large. Whether these arguments hold water or not is a different question altogether.

It is not wrong if one may see student politics as the Launchpad for mainstream or national politics- a ticket to have a national exposure. After all, a leader like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Delhi Congress President Ajay Maken, Delhi’s former BJP president Satish Upadhyay are among the many national and state-level politicians who began their political career from the student politics and the elections. The student elections are also an opportunity for the existing political parties to reach out to the young voters brimming with enthusiasm. If looked at it from this perspective, it is easy to understand why student elections thus become a matter of prestige for political parties and their student wings.

student

Image Source: Web

For now, let us take the example of DUSU elections that happened this year. The largest central university in the country has more than one lakh students. Out of which 44.5% turned up for elections. It was a clean sweep for BJP and RSS backed student wing ABVP. While ABVP won 3 seats including that of president’s, BAPSA won 1 seat. On the other hand, JNU which has been in controversy for a few years due to various reasons, saw a red storm taking the center stage.

Being the largest central university and the most controversial university in the national capital which is the center-stage for national politics, the student elections tend to reflect the national political culture at the student level. The politics at this level is heated and as much amount is splurged in these elections as in Municipal Corporation elections. The student elections in recent years have been marred by the incidents of violence, poll code violations, and expensive campaigning. Thus, the elections that are a week’s affair suddenly gain national importance.

Left

Image Source: Web

But for those, sitting away from the politically charged Delhi environment, this treatment to student elections is alienated. In country’s economic capital Mumbai, student elections hardly make it to the news headlines, let alone the front page. The elections in Mumbai University which houses more than 5 lakh students and is affiliated to as many as 700 colleges, rarely see the kind of coverage that DU or JNU student elections get.

At a time, when student body elections have become a part and parcel of national politics, the one who stands at the losing end is a student. While the topics as OROP, Triple Talaq, Rohingya Muslims take the center stage in the presidential debate, issues that worry the students in their academic and campus lives are rarely addressed. We also have heard a lot of students complaining about the disturbance in their classes and invasion of privacy in the days of student body elections. The solution is not taking the politics out of institutes. The politics which is deeply entrenched in our system is equally necessary for education institutions to hold the authorities accountable. The need is to decide what should be the degree or level of politicisation being allowed.

For starters, we can keep student elections, an affair limited to the concerned university rather than blowing it up as a reflection of the nation’s mandate at large!

 

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Opinion

In Uttar Pradesh, government’s Maternity Benefit Scheme is still in the womb

Arti Ghargi

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uttar pradesh

With such a high IMR and high TFR, Uttar Pradesh spends a meager Rs 452 per capita on health.

On the eve of New Year 2017, Prime minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation. Amongst all the other schemes and their benefits, he talked about a scheme that was launched nation-wide for pregnant women in the country. The scheme named Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana aimed to provide a prenatal financial assistance to pregnant women. In his speech, PM Modi said, “This scheme will help reduce the maternal mortality rate, in a big way. This will help ensure nutrition before and after delivery, and improve the health of mother and child.” Prime Minister also cited that under the pilot project, the scheme had already benefitted women in 53 Indian districts who were given assistance of 4000 rupees each.

 Almost two years after the highly-touted project launch, not a single woman from Uttar Pradesh has benefitted from PM’s Matru Vandana Yojana, an RTI has revealed. According to the RTI filed by IANS, not a rupee of government money has been spent on maternity benefit scheme till August 2018 in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state also has the highest fertility rate among the Indian states.

The RTI further revealed that out of the states whom the funds were allocated under the scheme, Uttar Pradesh received the maximum. Out of total Rs. 2,049 crores in 2017-18 sanctioned and approved by the central government, Uttar Pradesh received the largest share of Rs. 336 crores.

Though, the positive picture states that as many as 34 lakh women across the country out of the 44 lakh enrolled stood as beneficiaries of the scheme, only 184 women enrolled in PM MVY and none of them received the benefit since its inception in January 2017.

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana:

Image Source: Web

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) is a Maternity Benefit Programme that is implemented in all the districts of the country in accordance with the provision of the National Food Security Act, 2013. It was launched as a replacement of Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana which was launched in 2010 by the then UPA government. The objective of the scheme was Providing partial compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the women can take adequate rest before and after delivery of the first living child. The cash incentive provided would lead to improved health seeking behavior amongst the Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers. All eligible Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers who have their pregnancy on or after 01.01.2017 for the first child in a family can receive the benefit.

The fertility rate of Uttar Pradesh:

Source: NITI Aayog Website

Uttar Pradesh, out of all the Indian states registers one of the highest fertility rates. A NITI Aayog report published in 2016, the state recorded Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 3.1. This is second highest following Bihar which has TFR of 3.3. The TFR in Uttar Pradesh is way higher than the ideal Fertility Rate suggested by the central government which is 2.4. If we look at the details of TFR district-wise, the picture is even worse. According to the data released by Health ministry in July this year, as many as 11 districts from UP have a fertility rate of 4. Nineteen districts have a total fertility rate of between 3.5 and 4, while 28 have a total fertility rate of between 3 and 3.5.

Infant Mortality Rate of Uttar Pradesh:

 

Image Source: NFHS 2015-16

According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, UP’s Infant Mortality Rate is now the same as the strife-torn West-African nation of Mauritania (65), worse than another poor, chaotic African country, Burkina Faso (61) and only just better than Afghanistan (66). The state now also has India’s worst under-five mortality rate of 78 deaths per 1,000 live births which are comparable to that of Mozambique (79), an African nation with half of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. This is an 18-point reduction in under-five mortality from 96 per 1,000 live births ten years ago.

However, with such a high IMR and High TFR, Uttar Pradesh spends a meager Rs 452 per capita on health. India’s most populous state spends 70% less than the Indian average on health. It means one in two children in the state is not fully immunized. As well as, the state has India’s second-highest maternal mortality rate i.e. 258 deaths per 100,000 live births.

At a time when UP government spends only Rs. 452 per capita on health, the Yogi government spent Rs 65 crore on the ‘makeup’ of Lucknow to host the mega Uttar Pradesh Investors Summit 2018. The mere lip service and fund allocation will not ensure that maternal benefits will reach the needy. It has to be streamlined in a process with appropriate auditing of the fund allocated and spreading awareness of the same.

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