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In Pragati: Where is the national disaster management authority?

In the May 2010 edition of Pragati, I call to attention India’s disaster management system and outline the steps necessary to ensure efficiency in all aspects of disaster management — prevention, mitigation, capacity-building, preparedness, assessment and rehabilitation.

While a command-and-control structure is crucial to administer and manage disaster management programs, the efficacy of the program itself cannot be assured without tackling the rot in India’s “last mile” institutions — the police and emergency services.  Establishing an overall governance structure and issuing policy guidelines are no doubt critical, but the test of any policy ultimately lies in its execution, and this is where India faces its biggest challenge.

While the [National Disaster Management Authority — NDMA]  may have made headway in developing an over-arching framework and best practices for disaster management, the success or failure of the system depends heavily on “last-mile” institutions, which are often under-resourced, incapable and insufficient for the task. To this end,institutional capacity building must become a critical area of focus for the NDMA. The country’s fire and emergency services remain woefully inadequate and incapable of dealing with large-scale accidents. The state of local law enforcement services, which are first responders to most incidents, suffers from years of neglect in the absence of police reforms. Last mile institutions are in an unsatisfactory state in urban centres.

India’s civil defence force infrastructure is decrepit, with constraints in budget, training and resources. India’s civil defence organisations are illequipped to respond to NBC incidents; indeed, even the four National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) battalions specially designated to respond to NBC incidents face a paucity of equipment and expertise.

Read more about it on Pragati ( PDF; 2.4 MB).

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Lalgarh and beyond

Since returning to power earlier this year, the UPA has been painting the Maoists as India’s greatest internal security threat.  What started out in Lalgarh as a protest movement against police excesses morphed into an armed popular uprising, thanks to the machinations of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) and the CPI (Maoist).  The frontier regions of West Mindapore district were engulfed in a state of virtual People’s War; the Maoists wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Chairman would have been proud.

The glare of national media, as well as rumblings in New Delhi resulted in the ensuing counterinsurgency operation, which effectively began on June 18.  Lalgarh was retaken by local police, with the aid of the BSF, CPRF and paramilitary units by the end of day 3 of the operation. That the Maoists were able to exert control over Lalgarh in the first place is an indictment of the flippant, almost collusive approach to the problem by the ruling CPI(M).

This should come as no surprise: the CPI(M) is an ideologically bankrupt entity that has driven the two states where it has held power — Kerala and West Bengal — into virtual economic bankruptcy.  Prakash Karat and his ilk do an excellent job at effusively marketing their non-ideology, and taking potshots at other political parties, but when it comes to brass tacks, there is a virtual paralysis in decision making.

However, singling out the CPI(M) for the mess would be unfair.  Other prolific actors, such as the Trinamool Congress (TC) have played a very significant part in perpetuating the Maoist menace in the hinterland.  Ajai Sahni writes of a law and order/moral vacuum that provided an ideal festering ground for Maoist indoctrination and expansion:

Other players have, of course, been critical — the (TC) principal among the veritable armies of ‘useful idiots’ who have been taken along. The backdrop of this increasing ‘joint front activity’ has been augmenting violence and a consolidation of the Maoist presence across West Bengal — something the Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPI-M) state government has sought consistently to deny, underplay and cover up.

CPI(M)’s wishy-washiness when it came to declaring the Maoists as a “terrorist” organization makes one question whether or not they capable of acting in good faith with the interests of the nation at heart.  The need to declare the Maoists “terrorists” was dismissed with the excuse that they (the Maoists) needed to be countered “administratively”.  That’s rich, coming from a party that has left behind a trail of unmitigated administrative disasters in West Bengal and Kerala.

What the UPA must do upon the cessation of military operations is to ensure that there is a mechanism to redress the grievances of the local tribes.  Police excesses and human rights violations must be investigated, and those guilty of excesses must be brought to book.  A distinction must be made between the adivasis and the Maoists, who, for all intents and purposes had no stake in the anti-police agitation but the desire to indoctrinate and recruit tribals for their cause.

The law and order vacuum that allowed the Maoists to establish control over the 17 villages must be plugged.  The capabilities of security forces in the area need to be significantly enhanced, if only to act as a deterrent against any future contemplations of armed popular uprisings in the area.  B. Raman cautions that in doing so, the UPA needs to formulate strategies baring in mind the differences between Maoist terrorism and jihadi terrorism:

Firstly, the Maoist terrorism is an almost totally rural phenomenon, whereas jihadi terrorism is a largely urban phenomenon. Secondly, Maoist terrorism is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and a domestic political agenda….Jihadi terrorism is a cross border threat to national security. Maoist terrorism is not.

The jihadis increasingly attack soft targets. The Maoists don’t. They mainly attack police stations, police lines, camps and arms storage depots of para-military forces in order to demoralise the security forces and capture their arms and ammunition. The repeated success of the Maoists in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on such hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up and the equally poor state of physical security.

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