Recently the Indian government invoked Section 35 of the National Disaster Management Act, 2005 to better deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.

Recent Events

  • The 21-day lockdown was imposed by invoking the National Disaster Management (NDM) Act, 2005. The Union home ministry has also issued regulations to ensure strict compliance and enforcement of the lockdown invoking the same Act, the violation of which can result in imprisonment of up to two years.
  • The Act permits the Union government to constitute inter-ministerial central teams (IMCTs) and dispatch them to states to make on-spot assessments, issue necessary directions to state authorities, and submit their report to the Centre.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has constituted six such teams which are, for the moment, headed by bureaucrats and will tour affected areas to report omissions and commissions by the state governments in the management of the Covid-19 situation.
  • These include incidents of violence on frontline health care professionals, violations of social distancing norms, and movement of vehicles in urban areas.
  • The centre has declared COVID-19 as a “notified disaster” and as a “critical medical condition or pandemic situation”.
  • This will allow the government to use the National Disaster Response Fund to contain the rise in COVID-19 cases and to make policies at the national, state and district levels.

National Disaster Management Act 2005 (NDMA)

The National Disaster Management Act, 2005, was passed in January 2006 and has 11 chapters and 79 sections.

  • The objective and purpose of the NDM Act is to manage disasters, including preparation of mitigation strategies, capacity-building, etc.
  • The Act extends to the whole of India.
  • The Act defines a disaster as a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes”.
  • The definition also states that the disaster should have resulted in “substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to property and environment to such an extent that it is beyond the coping capacity of the affected area”.
  • Section 2A of the Act gives power to the central government to inspect (any ship or vessel) and even detain persons if necessary.
  • Section 3 makes it a criminal offence to disobey any regulation or order under the Act.
  • The punishment is in accordance with Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code

Important Bodies under the Act

1.National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

  • National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is a statutory body with the Prime Minister of India as chairperson.
  • The NDMA has nine members including a Vice-Chairperson.
  • The tenure of the members of the NDMA is five years.
  • NDMA is responsible for laying down the policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management and to ensure timely and effective response to disaster.
  • Under section 6 of the Act it is responsible for laying down guidelines to be followed by the State Authorities in drawing up the State Plans.

Main Functions of NDMA include

  • Approve the National Disaster Plan
  • Approve plans prepared by Ministries or Departments of the Central Government in accordance with National Plan
  • Lay down guidelines to be followed by State Authorities in drawing up State Plan
  • Lay down guidelines to be followed by different Ministries or Departments of Central Government for purpose of integrating measures for disaster prevention or mitigation of its effects in their development plans and projects
  • Coordinate enforcement and implementation of disaster management policy and plan
  • Recommend provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation

2.National Executive Committee

  • The Act under Section 8 enjoins the Central Government to Constitute a National Executive Committee (NEC) to assist the National Authority.
  • The NEC is composed of Secretary level officers of the Government of India

3.State Disaster Management Authority

  • All State Governments are mandated under Section 14 of the act to establish a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).
  • The SDMA consists of the Chief Minister of the State, who is the Chairperson, and eight members appointed by the Chief Minister.
  • The SDMA is mandated under section 28 to ensure that all the departments of the State prepare disaster management plans as prescribed by the National and State Authoritie

4.District Disaster Management Authority

  • The Chairperson of District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) will be the Collector or District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner of the district.
  • The elected representative of the area is member of the DDMA as an ex officio co-Chairperson

5.National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)

  • The Act provides for constituting a National Disaster Response Force “for the purpose of specialist response to a threatening disaster situation or disaster” under a Director General to be appointed by the Central Government.
  • Recently in September 2014 Kashmir-floods NDRF along with the armed forces played a vital role in rescuing the locals and tourists,

6.National Institute of Disaster Management

  • Section 42 mandate for establishment of a National Institute of Disaster Management

7.National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) and the National Disaster Mitigation Fund (NDMF)

  • At the national level, the Act provides for two Funds
  • National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) which is to be used for addressing any threatening disaster situation, or disaster
  • National Disaster Mitigation Fund (NDMF) meant exclusively for the purpose of mitigation projects.
  • The Act provides for similar funds at the state and district level.

Issues related to the Act and various bodies

  1. The National Executive Committee (NEC), which has been assigned crucial, and multifarious, activities under the Act, has failed to deliver.
  2. There is a lack of functional integration between the NDMA and the NEC on the one hand, and the NDMA and the Ministry of Home Affairs on the other.
  3. The National Institute of Disaster Management has not been able to fulfill the expectations of States and UTs.
  4. The implementation of the National Disaster Act, 2005 has been slow, and slack.
  5. The act has been criticized for marginalizing Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), elected local representatives, local communities and civic group;
  6. It has been accused of Fostering a hierarchical, bureaucratic, command and control, ‘top down’, approach that gives the central, state, and district authorities sweeping powers.
  7. There is a need to redesign the NDMA’s structure, ensuring greater objectivity and transparency in selecting Members.
  8. At present, NDRF personnel come from different Forces and return to their parent organization after a specified period. This means that the skill, experience and expertise they develop while working with the NDRF might not be available for disaster response after they leave the Force
  9. The NDRF personnel lack sufficient training, equipment, facilities and residential accommodation to tackle the crisis situation properly.

Way Forward

Following changes can help further strengthen the NDMA

  • The criteria of selection, tenure and other terms and conditions of service of full-time Members must clearly specified.
  • The NDMA should have the powers to recruit and appoint officers and staff in respect of the posts sanctioned by the Government of India.
  • The Disaster Management Division of the MHA needs to be strengthened so that it can give secretariat support to the NDMA and perform other functions mandated by the Act.
  • An All India cadre of disaster management professionals must be set up.
  • Local authorities should have the responsibility of ensuring compliance with laws, codes and rules relating to building safety and fire safety, and they should be specifically mentioned as having a responsibility to prepare disaster management plans.
  • There should be a specific rules of protection of the interests of women, children, disabled, and the weaker sections.
  • The Act should incorporate the duties, responsibilities and role of the community.
  • Community based disaster preparedness should be included in the provisions related to local authorities.
  • The Act should also lay down the role, responsibility and liability of the private sector.
  • There should be a provision for a grievance redress mechanism in the context of relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction

India has a plethora of laws and guidelines, but there is still a need to strengthen its legal framework to deal with such an emergency like Covid19, including coordination and implementation issues.

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