Natural Disaster Mgmt Division Finally Comes To Home Ministry

New Delhi, May 30: | Updated: May 31 2002, 05:30am hrs
The natural disaster management division (NDMD) is being transferred from the agriculture ministry to home ministry from June 1. But the government is still undecided about the role of the central relief commissioner.

While NDMD director SK Swami, along with an assistant director, a technical officer and a technical assistant have already received orders to function under the home ministry from June 1, central relief commissioner Binoo Sen has not received any such order.

In fact, the government has decided to transfer services of only four staff members to the home ministry to man the activities of NDMD in the new set-up. It has been decided that all natural disaster management including, floods, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides, water logging, forest fires and manmade disasters will now be handled by the home ministry, while drought cases will be tackled by the agricultural ministry. However, if drought becomes very severe, the home ministry will step in to tackle the crisis, through the NDMD.

Since Independence, NDMD was functioning as a separate division under the agriculture ministry. It was thought that natural disasters, which mostly affect rural areas and crops, can be effectively managed by this ministry. But with terror activities on the rise, there have been consistent demands for setting up a separate nodal agency for manmade disaster management. Accordingly, the government set up a high powered committee under former agriculture secretary JC Pant to suggest means for tackling natural disasters. The Pant panel called for creation of a separate ministry for tackling both natural and manmade disasters.

Prime Minister Vajpayee also appointed another committee to suggest administrative and legislative measures to tackle disasters. The report is awaited.

But home minister LK Advani was not happy with the Pant report, and called for shifting the entire NDMD to his ministry, saying his ministry has better expertise to deal with any disasters including the manmade ones. At the instance of Mr Advani and with the tacit approval of the then agriculture minister Nitish Kumar, the Cabinet had approved the transfer of NDMD to the home ministry, last year.

However, when Mr Ajit Singh took over the agriculture ministry, he opposed the home ministrys move to bifurcate his ministry. Claiming that his ministry can tackle all natural disasters and has already gained enough experience over the years, he said the home ministry can create a separate division to tackle manmade disasters.