By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It’s a classic instance of disaster mismanagement.
No wonder, The Pinarayi Vijayan Government’s inadequate response to the Ockhi cyclone, which struck several districts in Kerala and took a heavy toll of human lives, incurred the wrath of the people.
Such was the intensity of people’s anger that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vjayan, who undertook a visit to Vizhinjam, one of the most affected areas, had to beat a hasty retreat. The people’s red-hot anger was palpable as nobody from the government side visited the cyclone-affected areas for full four days after Ockhi unleashed its fury.
In fact, only after Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the hapless victims did the Chief Minister deem it fit to reach out to the cyclone-hit. To the credit of the Defence Minister, she managed to calm agitated nerves by her mature handling of a potentially explosive situation. She succeeded in assuaging the anger of the people with assurances of efforts to rescue fishermen stranded at sea. Rescue operations would continue till all the fishermen were brought back safe, she promised. The two Kerala ministers who accompanied the Union minister were singled out by the agitated people to vent their fury over the government’s indifference to their suffering.
A glaring contrast was the visit of V S Achuthanandan. People talked to him freely and patiently listened to his assurance of immediate help. The hostility manifest during the CM’s visit was conspicuous by its absence.
To say that the government is completely on the defensive is to make an understatement. In fact, the government has a lot to answer for. The people’s main grievance is that the government failed to issue a timely warning about the outbreak of the cyclone. It compounded its offence by failing to coordinate the rescue efforts. If only the fishermen had been warned on time about the impending disaster, many lives could have been saved. That is the perception gaining ground.
There is no denying the fact that the government was caught napping. The usual blame game is on but the need now is for coordinated efforts to rescue precious lives. Thankfully, the Navy and the Coast Guard have swung into action, helped by fishermen to locate and bring back the missing.
The government must accord top priority to put in place an efficient Disaster management Authority. The one that is there has proved itself to be an unmitigated disaster. It is shocking to learn that the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) has only one scientist, other members being only ministers, bureaucrats and the chief secretary, whose knowledge of disaster management is nothing to write home about. The first and foremost task, therefore, is to have more experts in the KSDMA so that the government is not found wanting next time.
The present scientific disaster management protocol followed by the KSDMA is, to say the least, outrageous. The protocol moots prevention of fishermen from going out into the sea only after a cyclone is declared, which is usually done at the very last moment! It passes one’s comprehension why a warning cannot be issued the moment a deep depression forms. It is common knowledge that a deep depression can turn into a cyclone any time. Therefore, the present practice of issuing a warning only when the wind speed exceeds 61 kmph needs to be thrown out lock, stock and barrel. The earlier the government takes a decision on this, the better.
The Ockhi cyclone tragedy offers a few lessons which the government would do well to learn – and learn fast. No government, least of all a Left Democratic Front (LDF) government can afford the luxury of criticism that it is indifferent to the plight of people in their hour of extreme distress and suffering.
Last but not the least, the hallmark of a responsive government is its readiness to feel compassion for the victims of natural and man-made disasters. Unfortunately, the government’s lack of compassion and fellow-feeling was on full display in the wake of the Ockhi cyclone tragedy. A government that fails to avert criticism on this count will have to bear the full brunt of people’s wrath. It is time the Pinarayi Vijayan Government got its act together and came out with a more humane response when disaster strikes in future. (IPA Service)