Kerala Floods: A disaster in Disaster Management
by P M Ravindran on 28 Sep 2018 4 Comments

Kerala has just witnessed one of the worst disasters in its history in the form of floods. The floods ravaged almost 50 percent of its geographical area, causing loss of around 450 lives and material loss to the tune of a few billion rupees. It can easily be said that almost two-thirds of lives lost was due to the ineptitude of the government. The allegations and counter allegations have been as bad as, if not worse than, the apocalyptic floods.


Ever since the Right to Information Act was enacted, interventions using the law, intended to “contain corruption and hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed”, have helped one postulate that our governance is a system that does not do anything it is tasked to do and does everything it is not expected to do. Here are two interventions on disaster management spread over a period of years.


On November 26, 2012 there was a function in the Conference Hall of the Collectorate, Palakkad. On December 02, 2012 an application under the RTI Act was submitted to get some details about the function, such as the nature of the function, participation, cost incurred, nature of incidents that came under the classification of disaster, the organization of teams, nature and place of training, expected response time, equipments allotted etc. The information provided was limited to the function being a training program on the operation of the District Emergency Operation Centre; participants were employees of the Collectorate (around 230 persons) and four employees each from the talukas, and the cost incurred was Rs 27,000/-. No information was provided on the formation of teams, equipments and training institutions or planned response time.


Cut to the post-flood situation. Another application under the RTI Act was filed on August 30, 2018, a good three weeks after the flood waters had receded from affected areas in district Palakkad. The information sought pertained to the water level in various dams as on August 8, 2018, date when the dams were opened for the first time, height to which the shutters were opened and changes made subsequently, the authority who issued the orders, date and time of issuing warnings, name and designations of public servants assigned various tasks during the rescue and relief operations and those deployed in the Disaster Management Control Room, and the temporary warehouse established in the Indoor Stadium near Government Victoria College, details of setting up and closing of relief camps, aid material distributed to the relief camps, cost incurred during the rescue and relief operations and source of funds.


The one point reply from the Public Information Officer stated that the information has not been codified and would attract the provisions of Sec 7(9) of the RTI Act. But there was an offer to visit their office between 2 and 4.30 pm on September 19, 2018. Does it look great? Perhaps to those uninitiated in the ways of public servants of this ‘fully literate’ state.


Instead of the one, two or three relevant files, they would dump 10 irrelevant files also and help you to waste your time digging out the relevant files. Not to forget the cost of inspecting files. In any case, the public authority is admittedly guilty under Sec 4(1)(a) of the RTI Act which mandates every public authority to ‘maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated’.


Incidentally, the media has reported that about 89,000 tons of food grains which the Chief Minister of Kerala had sought as immediate aid from the Prime Minister, and was promptly provided, is yet to be collected from the State godowns. And those responsible cannot be pardoned for creating an unwarranted controversy that these grains were not aid but were to be charged for. And that was not the only controversy. They came with as much ruthlessness as the flood waters themselves, whether it was requisitioning army help or non-promised aid worth Rs 700 crore from the United Arab Emirates. The reports about political interference in relief and rehabilitation efforts would put the dacoits of Chambal to shame.


It is also relevant to mention here that naturopath Jacob Wadakkaancherry was remanded to judicial custody by an additional sessions judge in Thiruvananthapuram on a complaint by the Director of Health (at the instance of the State’s Health Minister) that his campaign against use of the drug Doxycycline as a preventive medicine for rat fever was against the government’s policy.


Currently, many cases have been filed against the State government for extortion, right from the employees of Malabar and Travancore Dewaswom Boards to the unions of government employees who have objected to the government deducting their one month pay as contribution to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund without their consent! Meanwhile, the Chief Minister who is in the United States since September 01, 2018 for treatment of an undisclosed ailment has set a new bench mark for irresponsibility by not handing over his responsibilities to a designated senior minister.


It has been reported that the Kerala Government has not subscribed to Ayushman Bharat, the Prime Minister’s Arogya Yojana, touted as the world’s biggest public health scheme (inaugurated September 21, 2018). This will deprive a major section of the population of the state from the health care benefits offered under the scheme. Can there be a worse example of the anti-people stance of a democratically elected government? 

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