Having failed to secure financial assistance from the revenue department despite repeated efforts, the district administration has eventually decided to seek private sponsorship for its much delayed proposal for setting up a team of expert divers for rescue operations during water-related disasters.

District Collector P.I. Sheikh Pareeth, who is also the chairman of the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), said the district administration was exploring the scope of tapping Kochi Refineries for funds. “We will forward a proposal in this regard this month itself,” he told The Hindu.

The proposal for setting up a team of expert divers was born out of the realisation that precious time is being lost in rescue operations while waiting for the arrival of divers from the Navy or the Coast Guard.

The tragedy in which five NCC cadets drowned in the Periyar at Mahoganythottam near Malayattoor last December was expected to revive the proposal. The fact that the proposal continues to remain on paper more than seven months after such a major disaster only goes to prove the callousness of the authorities concerned.

In fact, the Collector had even written to the Goa-based National Institute of Water Sports (NIWS) asking to depute a few experts to select the right candidates for the proposed divers’ team. But the move hit a roadblock for want of funds.

The idea was to have a pool of 40-odd divers to be selected by the experts from NIWS from among the candidates long-listed by the district administration. The right physique and the capability to dive to a depth of 100 metres within 3 minutes were some of the criteria for selection. This would have enabled the deployment of at least five divers each in all seven taluks of the district.

The first of its kind proposal anywhere in the State was originally mooted by the then Revenue Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan while inaugurating a chemical emergency management training for government officials here in January 2012.

The DDMA followed up on the idea and forwarded a proposal worth Rs. 2 lakh to the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA). SMDA returned the proposal with the suggestion to arrange for training in the district itself. The district administration, however, insisted on NIWS doing the training, stating that there was no agency in the district with the required specialised knowledge.

In fact, it had been pointed out that the Rs. 2 lakh sought was just enough to cover the course fee of Rs. 5,000 per person, which did not cover other ancillary expenses like accommodation of the candidates.

More In: Kochi