Issue: October 2016
Cover Story
Textiles’ – the word brings up images of beautiful drapes – cotton, silk, chiffon, lace. Whether it is the material draped on the figurine of the lady...
  Tapping Sustainable Energy Alternatives
  The second lead article, which is also focus article, is written by Shri N Bhadran Nair. Citing a report of the World Health Organisation, the author has advocated for tapping sustainable energy alternatives
  Financing Renewables in India
  The third article is written by Shri P C Maithani, Adviser, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. He has focussed on renewable energy resources
  Steps to Achieve India’s Solar Potential
  The special article is written by Sumant Sinha, Chairman and Managing Director of ReNew Power. He opines that India must also honour its global commitments on curbing greenhouse gas emissions
  Disaster Management in India and Differently Abled
Dr. Sanjay Sharma

Disaster is generally understood as an event causing loss of life, destruction of infrastructure and creating social stress. Disaster renders people disabled in large numbers. But what about the person who are already disabled? Disaster management is expected to recognise that differently able cannot respond to disaster as quickly as other can. Therefore, disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, recovery, rehabilitation should be inclusive of needs of differently abled. This paper deconstructs the various dimensions of policy framework and institutional structure of disaster management in India from the hitherto under researched perspective of differently abled. It also suggests potential reforms in this direction.

Defining Disaster

Disaster is generally considered as a phenomenon having a catastrophic impact on human life. One finds an interesting definition of disaster in the Disaster Management Act, 2005 of India. It says that "disaster means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade 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 a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area."[ Gazette of India (2005): Disaster Management Act, New Delhi: Government of India, p.1.]On the other hand, the World Bank[ World Bank (1989): Operational Directive OD 8.50 Emergency Assistance Work System, Washington D.C.] has defined disaster as a natural phenomenon of limited span, but causing severe destruction to a country's economy.

Management of Disaster: Analysis of Framework

Management of Disaster: Analysis of Framework

Until recently, different forms and types of disasters were treated generally in terms of research, development, and the management of "shocks" in isolation. There was hardly any coordinating agency and regulatory institution regime to standardise policy and secure execution. In fact, in a way, disaster management is a late entry in the governance of natural crises and calamities. Therefore, it is crucially important to simplify disaster management as concepts and programmes of action. It stands for the integrated activities undertaken both by the government and voluntary agencies aiming to avoid disaster, and to provide immediate rescue and relief to victims once disaster actually occurs. It is a continuous process requiring multi-dimensional and multi-institutional activities aiming to rehabilitate the affected people and reconstruct the affected region. In other words, disaster management includes anticipation, assessment, and rehabilitation. In brief, disaster management is a multi-stage process of:

  1. Mitigation, i.e. mitigating the causes responsible for disaster. It is a stage in planning that either checks the causes of disaster or reduces the effects.
  2. Infra-structuralpreparednessInfra-structural preparedness, i.e. the stage of alert to cope with the actual occurrence of disaster. This involves administrative and economic preparedness, an advance outlay of resources, which can reduce the loss of sufferings, both human and infra structural.
  3. Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Resettlement, i.e. saving lives, restoring infrastructure and communications, and normalising life as soon as possible.

Disaster Vulnerability of India

India is one of the most disaster prone countries. India's large population, geo-climatic conditions are primarily responsible for it. Industrialisation and unplanned urbanisation in India are primarily responsible for manmade disasters. Besides, climate change is also increasing the frequencies of natural calamities. Himalayan Tsunami of Uttarakhand 2013, Flood in Jammu and Kashmir 2014, and massive rain led flood in Chennai 2015 are believed to be climate change induced natural calamities. According to an estimate 59 per cent land in India is prone to earthquake, 12 per cent of land is vulnerable to flood and soil erosion, 76 per cent coastline is prone to cyclone and tsunami, 68 per cent cultivable area is prone to draught, around 78.29 million hectare of forest area is prone to forest fire. Besides, India is also vulnerable to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) disasters (CAG Report: 2013).[ Comptroller Auditor General (2013): Performance Audit of Disaster Preparedness in India, New Delhi: Government of India, p.3.]Under the backdrop of India's vulnerability to disaster one cannot deny the fact that differently abled are most vulnerable in the event of disaster. Therefore, needs of differently abled require special attention in policy formation and its execution.

High Powered Committee on Disaster Management

Disaster management is a late entry in India. Disaster does not find any place in any of the three lists of the 7th schedule of the Indian constitution. It was as late as 1999 that the Government of India for the first time constituted a High-Powered Committee on Disaster Management: It was perhaps the first official attempt to systematically approach the issue of disaster management.

It undertook a comprehensive study on various aspects of disaster management in India, such as nature and type of disasters, vulnerability profile, new culture of disaster management, organisational framework, and planning and finance. It aptly described its objective as framing a new culture of disaster management, characterised as: "(i) a culture of preparedness (presence of a well-functioning warning system and the preparedness of vulnerable communities); (ii) a culture of quick response (to promote an appropriate response to the crisis); (iii) a culture of strategic thinking (the creation of a knowledge network); and (iv) a culture of prevention (instilling a culture of prevention in disaster managers and all communities)."[Government of India (2002): Report of the High Power Committee on Disaster Management, New Delhi: Ministry of Agriculture, p.4.] HPC, under the chapter Needs of Special Group, covered disabled and aged in common heading.

It writes "Disaster mitigation strategies aimed at reducing the scale of destruction need to focus on the section of the population that is vulnerable and at a greater risk of being exposed to the adverse impact of disasters. Socio-economic, cultural practices etc. have made them weak and have put them in a disadvantaged position. Women, children, aged and the disabled are termed as the dependent population though facts are much different than what are projected otherwise." It suggests that "When addressing the relief requirements of the disaster victims, focus should be placed on the special needs of the vulnerable population that is, children, women, aged and the disabled. At the same time equity of relief distribution amongst beneficiary groups must be maintained (HPC: 2002)."

Disaster Management Act 2005

It is in this backdrop that Disaster Management Act 2005 has been enacted that aims at a vibrant management of disaster. This act provides a broad framework for disaster management to be followed by Union and States. The act lays down the procedures for constitution of National and State Disaster Management Authorities, establishment of National and State Disaster Response Force and setting up of National and State Disaster Response Funds and National and State Disaster Plans. However, despite the recommendations of High powered Committee there is no provision or guidelines for differently abled in the Act.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

Based on the recommendation of the High Powered Committee and provisions of National Disaster Management Act 2005 , the Union government constituted the National Disaster Management Authority in 2005.

NDMA has prepared "Handbook for Training and Capacity Building of Civil Defence and Sister Organisation" in 2012. In this handbook it maintains that in Community Based Disaster Management priority should be given to the most vulnerable that includes differently abled. In one of the case study on Jagannath Puri Stampede it also received the suggestion that doctors/paramedics/volunteers should be sensitized and trained to give physical and emotional support to distressed people including differently abled.

National Policy on Disaster Management (NPDM) 2010

The NDMA adopted a "mission-mode approach" towards the formation of the National Policy on Disaster. In line with the above principles, one of its objectives of disaster management says "Ensuring efficient response and relief with a caring humane approach towards the vulnerable sections of the society."[ Guidelines of National Policy on Disaster Management, viewed on 2 May, 2016,] The Policy recognises that differently abled are a vulnerable section and exposed to higher risks in the event of disaster. National Policy on Disaster Management ,in tune with the recommendation of High Power Committee, also recognises that in community based disaster preparedness the needs of differently abled require special attention.

National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM)

Disaster Management Act, in chapter 7, provides for the constitution of the National Institute of Disaster Management by the Central government. NIDM believes in inclusive disaster risk reduction framework.. It has organized following training programs for inclusive disaster management

  • A five-day training programme on Persons with Disabilities in Disasters for the government stakeholder was conducted in July 2011.
  • NIDM had observed the Disaster Risk Reduction Day on 12th October 2011 and schools for children with disabilities also participated in painting, poster and slogan competition on the occasion.
  • Launched a 5-day training programme for teachers of special schools
  • Developed a massive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) awareness campaign framework for school children with disabilities
  • Pursued the participation of schools with disabled children in the DRR Day next year and similar such activities.

Second Administrative Reform Commission

"Crisis Management: From Despair to Hope" is the third report of Second Administrative Reforms Commission. Its para 7.1.12 suggests that "Minimum standards of relief should be developed to address the requirements of food, health, water and sanitation shelter requirements. Focus should be placed on the special needs of the vulnerable population that is, children, women, the elderly and the physically challenged (SARC: 2006)." Furthermore, under chapter 10 on Gender Issues and Vulnerability of Weaker Section, it recommends that rescue and relief operation of disaster management should focus the most vulnerable group including physically challenged.

Second ARC has also conducted several regional workshops. Working groups, at regional workshops, have given many valuable suggestions. Wheel Chairs and special toilets for physically challenged at relief camps, provision of food supply and pension for physically challenged and elderly persons are some of the suggestions that have emerged from these workshops..  

Task Force on Disaster Management Act, 2005 In 2013 Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has constituted a "Task Force to review the Disaster Management Act, 2005." In its report the task force has mentioned the views received by stakeholders during consultation. One of the views is that Disaster Management Act does not mention vulnerable group; therefore stakeholders suggested that "The Act should specifically mention women, children, the disabled, and the weaker sections, so that they receive special attention during relief and rehabilitation in the context of disasters." On the basis of this suggestion the task force has recommended that the DM Act, 2005 should be amended and besides other things "There should be a specific mention of protection of the interests of women, children, the disabled, and the weaker sections."


What emerges from the above discussion is that the disaster management is principally a constitutional obligation of the Union government. It has powers to lay down framework legislation; accordingly, the state government has to comply with it by taking the necessary legal measures to manage disasters. Though the Union government has the power to issue directions, its role is mainly confined to laying down policy guidelines and coordinating the activities of the state/local authorities in the management of disasters. Powers are distributed vertically. Therefore, inclusion of differently abled in the central legislation will trickle down to the state laws and institution. Task force to review the Disaster Management Act also recognises the fact that at present there is no provision related to differently abled in the Act and therefore it requires amendment in which concerns of differently able along with other vulnerable groups are clearly mentioned. Besides, Second Administrative Commission also suggests that relief and recovery work should focus on vulnerable groups including differently abled. The Commission also received the views that in relief camps accessibilities of basic amenities like toilets and mobility (absence of Wheel Chair) are not differently abled friendly. Therefore, it can be suggested that inclusion of differently abled should not only take place in paper rather it is required to be followed in letter and spirit.



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