Homeland insecurity

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Raman Kirpal traces the sorry fate of the Civil Defence programme which P Chidambaram wanted overhauled after 26/11

Token measures A mock drill to show how a rescue is to be carried out in case of disaster
Photo: Indian Express Archive

IT SHOULD be called Action Not Taken Report (ANTR). The Union Home Ministry (MHA) had a query: how has the Rs 100-crore Civil Defence project progressed? BJP’s L K Advani, D Raja of the CPI, NCP’s Tariq Anwar and Congress members S S Ahluwalia and Navin Jindal are among 31 members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, who made this query.

Civil Defence was originally aimed at saving life, minimising damage to property and maintaining continuity of industrial production in the event of a hostile attack. Home Guards and fire safety come under this category. The programme commenced after the war with China in 1962 and was found useful in the 1971 and Kargil wars. After Mumbai 26/11, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram ordered a ‘complete’ overhaul of Civil Defence to make it relevant in a time of proxy wars and terrorist attacks.

The Planning Commission promptly allocated Rs 100 crore for the revamp. The MHA promised to put the plan into action with the Rs 15 crore allocated during 2009-10.

On May 4, the Parliamentary Committee sought Action Taken Replies (ATRs), so that it could reassess fund requirements. This request was passed onto National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). But a senior NDMA official replied, “It was taken away from us.’’

Who handles Civil Defence then and what revamp has happened so far? Home Ministry officials say that they are drafting ATRs and “all is well’’. TEHELKA, however, has in its possession a series of letters, which show jealousy, lust for power and proverbial red tape.

The letters show jealousy, lust for power and the proverbial red tape

Chidamabaram had approved an NDMA proposal on the overhauling of Civil Defence. The NDMA had proposed taking up Civil Defence in 100 most sensitive districts. It had proposed to enhance training allowance (per person) from Rs 28 to Rs 150 per day. Chidambaram, however, added that the revamp should be done on pilot project basis in 15 most sensitive districts.

The project was apparently given to NDMA, but MHA officials assert that they have a Civil Defence department headed by a Director General (DG). They don’t seem to be in the mood to give up their territory to NDMA.

April 20, 2009: Deputy Secretary Suchitra Goswami (MHA) writes: “The Project will be managed by DG Civil Defence along with experts from NDMA.’’

August 26, 2009: NDMA writes: “…the amount (Rs 15 crore) needs to be utilised before March 2010 or else the amount may remain unutilised and lapse. NDMA will be inviting the concerned states’ Director Generals for this purpose.’’

September 18, 2009: Joint Secretary (MHA) O Ravi replies: “A conference of all Directors of Civil Defence of States/UTs has already been held. Thus another meeting of DGs of Civil Defence of the concerned states is not necessary.”

December 7, 2009: NDMA writes: “Civil Defence plays the most important part in Disaster Management… It is requested that revamping of Civil Defence may be assigned to NDMA.”

January 4, 2010: Under Secretary (MHA) Ashok Shukla writes: “The proposal of NDMA for transferring the scheme of ‘Revamping of Civil Defence’ to NDMA is neither warranted nor justified…”

As these missives demonstrate, there is confusion among bureaucrats about where the project is located and who is in charge. The minister’s paranoia about security has obviously not percolated down the ranks.

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