From Left parties to Tollywood actors to JNU student leaders, many appealed to PM Narendra Modi to declare Cyclone Amphan a ‘national disaster’, which killed at least 72 people in West Bengal alone.
The cyclone left behind a trail of destruction in Kolkata, Hooghly, North and South 24 Parganas districts. As per reports, over 5,000 houses were destroyed in North 24 Parganas alone, while many trees lay uprooted and infrastructure damaged in Kolkata.
But the Central government cannot declare Cyclone Amphan a ‘national disaster’, simply because there is no legal provision for defining a national disaster.
The Disaster Management Act of 2005, which guides India’s disaster planning does not have any provision for notifying any disaster as a ‘national calamity’ or a ‘national disaster’. In fact, the Act does not have clear demarcations for national, state, or local level disasters. The Act only defines a disaster as:
“A catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of property, or damage to, or degradation of the environment, and is of such nature or magnitude, as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.”
The National Disaster Management Plan 2016, published by the National Disaster Management Authority, categorizes disasters into three levels – L1, L2, and L3 – based on “the vulnerability of disaster-affected area, and the capacity of the authorities to deal with the situation.”
Although these categories find no mention in the DM Act 2005, the NDMP specifically outlines the scope of each of these categories:
Level-L1: The level of disaster that can be managed within the capabilities and resources at the district level. However, the state authorities will remain in readiness to provide assistance if needed.
Level-L2: The level of disaster which requires assistance and active mobilization of resources at the state level. At this level, the state is required to deploy its agencies for disaster management. The central agencies must remain vigilant for immediate deployment if required by the state.
Level-L3: This corresponds to a nearly catastrophic situation or a very large-scale disaster that goes beyond the response capacity of the State and District authorities and requires assistance from the central government for reinstating the state and district machinery. This is the level that cyclone Amphan is most likely to fall under.
Since the management of disasters is considered a state matter, according to NDMP, the primary responsibility for undertaking rescue, relief, and rehabilitation measures during a disaster lies with the state governments. But the central government pitches in through logistic and financial support during ‘severe’ disasters on request of the state governments.
The National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009 reads that any “major crises that have serious or national ramifications” are dealt with by the National Crisis Management Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary.
In 2001, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had mandated the National Committee on Disaster Management to suggest parameters to define a ‘national calamity’. However, the committee did not fix any criteria for the classification.
Experts believe that the phrase ‘national disaster’ is bandied and tossed around by politicians without consistency or uniformity.
In the recent past, there have been demands from states to declare natural disasters like the Uttarakhand flood in 2013, Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh in 2014, and the Assam floods of 2015 as ‘national disasters’. However, the flash floods in Uttarakhand, Cyclone Hudhud, and the Kerala floods in 2018 were later classified as “calamities of severe nature”.
According to Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) guidelines, in the event of “calamity of severe nature” a Lok Sabha MP from any part of the country can recommend work up to a maximum of Rs 1 crore for the affected district.
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