It was after listening to a news broadcast over All India Radio that the local people of Gaurigaon came to the rescue of a large number of pilgrims headed for Kedarnath who were trapped midway due to the flash floods on June 16 and June 17.
Many of these pilgrims who had taken refuge in the jungles were escorted out from there and taken care of and fed by the villagers. That was on June 19. As the telecommunication network had been snapped, All India Radio was the only medium of information for the villagers and pilgrims stranded at various places. The Najibabad station of All India Radio continued to broadcast updates on weather forecasts, crucial in such situations, as well as information related to rescue operation, whether it was on the time and venue of the landing of choppers or about relief camps and any other kinds of assistance.
Vinay Dhyani, progammer and announcer at the station says that a special programmme “Pahar mein Pralay” carried every bit of information for the benefit of the people in the affected area. AIR’s FM Radio Rainbow, relayed from Mussouri, also kept on airing information and broadcasting advisories for the affected people. The AIR headquarters in Delhi too started an SMS service for relatives of the affected or the victims in Uttarakhand who had access to mobiles to pass on plain messages or voice messages for broadcast over radio.
During natural calamities when all channels of communications fail, when power supply and telecommunications links are snapped, the only source of communication is good old All India Radio. Whether it was during the super cyclone in Orissa in 1999, the killer Tsunami of 2004, or the Kosi floods in Bihar in 2008 and now the floods in Uttarakhand, All India Radio has been playing a crucial role in times of all these natural disasters .
It was in 1999 when the Tsunami struck Andaman and Nicobar Islands that Port Blair Station of All India Radio took the initiative to broadcast messages of relatives over radio. The response was enormous. In fact, there would be long queues of relatives and well wishers outside AIR Port Blair who wanted their messages to be aired over radio. A dedicated AIR team was on duty from 6am to midnight for the purpose. All the information regarding rescue and relief operations was also aired by AIR. For instance, in one of the islands people had rushed from the coastal areas to higher places after the Tsunami struck. It was through messages broadcast over AIR that people were urged to come down near the coastline so that they could be evacuated. Shibu, then transmission executive at AIR Port Blair recalls how they would get phone calls from across the country from relatives of people posted in the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands.
Dr Ambedkar government polytechnic college in Port Blair (now Dr Ambedkar Institute of Technology) had installed Development Communication Networks (DCNs) at seven locations in different islands. But when Tsunami struck, the question was who would operate those DCNs because some of the islands were totally cut off. Mr Sukhvinder Singh of the Institute remembers that it was through Port Blair station of AIR that instructions were given by the experts from the institute on how to operate them. They were not sure that somebody would be listening at the other end but the experiment paid off and the services could start from Cambal Bay and Kamota which were totally cut off and no information was available.
AIR also became the platform through which counseling was done by psychiatrists for the victims in relief camps suffering from trauma after Tsunami. Prasar Bharti also distributed 2000 hand winding transistors that ran on battery at the relief and rehabilitation camps.
For the people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, information through AIR has always been crucial especially with regard to the movement of ships that are the lifeline of the islanders.
During the Bihar floods in 2008, AIR helped flood victims by broadcasting messages aimed at missing persons. These messages received through SMS on AIR helpline number were automatically transferred and uploaded on a central server. The four regional AIR stations in Darbhanga, Bhagalpur, Patna and Purnea accessed these messages and within no time they were on air, reaching every nook and corner of the State. Emotional scenes were witnessed at relief camps where people sat around radio sets, awaiting the news of their loved ones stranded in marooned villages. It was through AIR that many families were united.
During the super cyclone in Orissa, AIR was the only source of information and communications for days. Realizing the crucial role radio can play during disasters, one of the advisories issued by the National Disaster Response Force urges people in such times to keep transistor radio sets with them.
In the recent Uttarakhand disaster AIR’s role could have been even more effective had studio and manpower facilities been made available at AIR’s relay stations at Cham0li and others in the region.