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Taking the sting out of rain havoc

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Some thoughts on issues related to rain, and mitigation strategies that should be in place

The recent bouts of rain and their aftermath in parts of the country occasion some thoughts on the management of rain-related issues. Having studied the pattern of rains and cyclones over a span of a century, particularly in coastal Tamil Nadu, as the State’s Director of Civil Defence, I have some thoughts and ideas to share.

It has been said that we cannot prevent cyclones and floods, but can stay prepared to face them and tackle them with alertness and preparedness. Tamil Nadu prepared an updated Flood Code in 1979 when M.G. Ramachandran was Chief Minister. I had a major role in preparing it. It spelt out preparatory measures and stressed on Planned Preparedness, applying the concepts of civil defence relating to rescue, relief and rehabilitation. It led to good results. Tamil Nadu has a high-level committee that meets ahead of the rainy season to monitor arrangements. With the Chief Minister heading it, it comprises representatives of different departments.

We had also arranged what may be called integrated aid units comprising personnel from the relevant departments, including the police, fire and rescue services, public works, health and civil supplies, with some help from non-governmental organisations, in vulnerable coastal areas and those interior areas predictably prone to flooding.

The Flood Code, and a brochure authored by me and approved by the State government on the role of the administration and the police during natural calamities, was sent to all the coastal States of India. I myself sent them to Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu during his first term in office when Visakhapatnam was battered by a cyclone, with a covering letter and a small donation to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. Mr. Chandrababu Naidu acknowledged receipt, giving firm indications that the ideas in the brochure relating to floods, cyclones, rescue and relief operations would be adopted in Andhra Pradesh.

Even in the 1980s, the Tamil Nadu system had been adopted in a number of coastal States, in particular in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the weather forecasting mechanism had hardly anything of note, we were thus able to save hundreds of lives: the primary emphasis was on saving lives and secondary emphasis on avoiding damage to property. Nowadays the weather forecasting system is well-organised and scientific, and the onset of cyclones and floods can be predicted fairly accurately.

What is quite important is the communication network. During cyclones and monsoons, telephone lines typically get disrupted and only the police communication system, networked across the State, particularly the coastal areas, come to the rescue. There was a vigilance unit in each place to keep an eye out and prevent pilferage of relief items and other malpractices.

Without resorting to blame games, I am not aware whether these arrangements were in place during the recent floods because there was water water everywhere but not a drop to drink. Of course I mean potable, purified water. Another important point of concern relating to post-monsoon relief arrangements is the sorry state of affairs of roads and the storm water drainage system. In the 1980s, when as Director Civil Defence I worked in coordination with the Special Officer, Corporation of Chennai, I realised that the storm water drainage system in what later became the city of Madras was made operational as early as in 1895. It is not clear if anything substantial has been done about it since then. If anything had indeed been done, our roads would not be flooded as they were recently.

The government should form a special task force to address these issues. Middlemen should not have any role; it is widely believed that quite a chunk of the money allotted to lay and relay roads are diverted by some of those rapacious middlemen.

(The author was Director-General of Police, Tamil Nadu. He was a recipient of the President’s Distinguished Service Medal for Civil Defence and Home Guards, the first police officer to receive it.)

v_vaikunth@lycos.com

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 11:49:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/some-thoughts-on-issues-related-to-rain/article6578659.ece

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