Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Save Our Soul (Ourselves)




Sorry, The Cops Are Not Part Of The Plan

In an earlier post and article elsewhere, this writer had cribbed about how, on the way home on the night of 26th July (and morning of 27th), he failed to spot a single policeman on the road. Citizens, as always, rose to the ocassion, doing everything from directing traffic to helping people wade through their respective localities.

It now transpires, going by a most insightful interview (in www.rediff.com) of Maharashtra Director General of Police Dr P S Pasricha by Archana Masih that the police are not even part of the state's disaster management plan ! Well, well, who then is part of the plan, you might ask ? Search me. The correct answer is nobody. There is of course a plan on paper and has been there for 7 years or so. Don't worry, a committee has been formed to `look into it'.

As this writer has pointed out in the past, it was not just a failure of systems on 26th of July but also of leadership. At a recent disaster management meeting brought together by ONGC (the oil major's process platform on Bombay High caught fire on 27th July killing over 20 people), senior Navy and Air Force officials pointed out that he just couldn't fathom the command structure in the state government.

For instance, the ONGC fire happened (160 km offshore) around 4.30 pm on the 27th of July. As soon as he was informed, ONGC chairman Subir Raha called the senior most Naval officer in the western command. Assistance was on its way within 45 minutes, the Navy says. Whereas, a whole day apparently passed before the state government called the Navy to help out in the city. The conclusion in that meeting was the central government agencies responded to each other pretty swiftly but they collectively encountered a wall when it came to the state.

All this only intensifies the argument made in the previous post. Look out for yourself, or else. Interestingly enough, Pasricha, in the interview, speaks about the need for rejeuvenating the civil defence unit and including it in the school curriculum (am reproducing the relevant parts below). He also alludes to other potential disasters that could occur, such as chemical. Read on..full link below.

Rediff interview With Maharashtra DGP Dr P S Pasricha (Extracts)

This time it was the rain, next time it could be an earthquake or worse. What lessons have you learnt? How do you think things will change if a disaster were to happen?

Pascricha: I am going to send my recommendations to the government and some of them are like this. We have 14 SRP (State Reserve Police) battalions all over Maharashtra. One battalion has 40,000 people. We have decided that each battalion will have a company of around 100 people, well equipped and well trained for disaster management. We'll not wait for the government. We'll do it on our own, whether we are a part of the disaster management committee or not.

Ultimately, we are the first responders so we will prepare ourselves to face various kinds of disasters. That we have taken a decision, details have been worked out, we're going to start any moment. That is one thing.

Secondly, I'm going to advise the government that civil defence should become an integral part of the school and college curriculum like Japan and China. There are sirens -- some nine types of sounds for different disasters. Every child knows that if this is the sound, it is war, if this is the sound, it is an earthquake. They have been taught. You have to do this in this situation. They have been taught.

In the 1962 war with China, NCC (National Cadet Corps) was made compulsory for us. There was no choice. So why don't we teach civil defence? Because ultimately people have to help themselves first. The one person who is best committed to protect you is yourself alone.

A citizen expects the police to be the first to respond in a law and order problem or any other calamity. You don't think of the municipal department or any other department but the police first.

Pascricha: Absolutely! And the poor police constable -- I went to the police lines after five, six days -- and a number of policemen hadn't gone home in three, four days and their families were also suffering. Their houses also had four feet water inside. There were problems and the police did their best to the extent possible.

There might have been some inadequacies also in the first few days. There were some administrative inadequacies but they were in the first few days. The warning system should have been activated but when the second round of rains came the media was totally covered and people were told not to leave their houses.

This could have been done on July 26-27 also. That weakness was there in the total system because it was not totally defined -- who is to do what when the water began rising. The traffic problem was there but then everybody was shaken and started building up strength.

This time it was the rain, next time it could be an earthquake or worse. What lessons have you learnt? How do you think things will change if a disaster were to happen?

Pascricha: I am going to send my recommendations to the government and some of them are like this. We have 14 SRP (State Reserve Police) battalions all over Maharashtra. One battalion has 40,000 people. We have decided that each battalion will have a company of around 100 people, well equipped and well trained for disaster management. We'll not wait for the government. We'll do it on our own, whether we are a part of the disaster management committee or not.

Ultimately, we are the first responders so we will prepare ourselves to face various kinds of disasters. That we have taken a decision, details have been worked out, we're going to start any moment. That is one thing.

Secondly, I'm going to advise the government that civil defence should become an integral part of the school and college curriculum like Japan and China. There are sirens -- some nine types of sounds for different disasters. Every child knows that if this is the sound, it is war, if this is the sound, it is an earthquake. They have been taught. You have to do this in this situation. They have been taught.

In the 1962 war with China, NCC (National Cadet Corps) was made compulsory for us. There was no choice. So why don't we teach civil defence? Because ultimately people have to help themselves first. The one person who is best committed to protect you is yourself alone.

So let us now awaken the people so that people know what to do, how to respond apart from the government machinery or NGOs. So that is one thing I'm going to do.

Then I'm going to recommend that the municipal corporation must be well equipped. They did not have adequate water pumps, they did not have necessary tools and machinery to remove people trapped under the debris. They did not have inflatable boats. We were begging from the navy and army. The plane couldn't take off or land, so we couldn't take help. Why should they (municipal corporation) not have inflatable boats located in different places?

You have to think in those terms that anything can happen, not only floods but god forbid, what if there's an earthquake, a chemical leakage?

Disaster management plans are there -- voluminous books -- but what do I do with the books? 600, 800, 1,500 pages. I basically want the gist -- that this should be done. The police should do what they are supposed to do. Fire brigade should do what they are supposed to do.

Then let us go for a helpline like 911, you have an integrated, fire brigade, ambulance services. This is how the system works. We are talking about nuclear power, we want to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and all that, then let us also think big like others have done.

The other thing is they have to invest money to improve the drainage system. It is 150 years old, it has stood the test of time but today it does not have the capacity of more than 1 inch and people who throw garbage anywhere are also blocking it. So let us go for a better system. It is worth spending money, worth improving.

Lastly, all political parties should forget their political interests and come together without blaming each other, think together, involve the media, police, municipal administration and say these are the things we will not allow.

Today the Coastal Regulatory Zone, applies only to authorised constructions, but if you build jhopadpattis that is okay. Why should hutments be allowed near the airport? Let the vote bank be, let us segregate it from the ground reality. Let us think rationally, you rehabilitate them in a proper way. It need not be in Mumbai or Kurla (in northeast Mumbai) only. These are some of the issues that will have to be collectively examined without any personal interest, only in the interest of society, the nation.

I did not know that the police is not part of the disaster management plan. But the police is the most visible arm -- that people expect help from...

Yes, they are in uniform, people feel they are omnipresent, they are superhuman beings, they are gods.

The police force has come under greater scrutiny after the floods. What are you doing to restore people's faith in the police?

First thing is we have to tell them the truth -- that these are the constraints. That we are not part of the system but still we have done our best. The misinformation, the wrong perception has to be changed. The police has got a limited role, even then they have done their best.

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