We never say no to requests, but multiplicity of challenges worrying: NDRF

NDRF director general S N Pradhan

Kolkata: The “multiplicity” of challenges faced by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is a cause for concern, its director general S N Pradhan has said, calling for a “clear” policy that will put the primary onus to deal with disasters of certain categories on states.

Pradhan said state governments are requisitioning for the specialised force, even to be on “standby”, without assessing their capabilities to respond to calamities.

“We never say no to any request, but the range is increasing by the day. While we are helping a child in a pit, at the same time, NDRF personnel are engaged in rescue work in a flood or cyclone situation somewhere else… We are worried about the multiplicity of challenges,” he told PTI in an interview.

Pradhan also said the NDRF is essentially a force in assistance of the state governments, as the disaster response mandate is with them by constitutional authority.

“My suggestion would be that once disasters are categorised, say as A, B or C, there should be a clear policy that for certain categories, the first call will rest with the state. We would be happier to be called in as the second or third option… If states don’t have the capability, they should build it,” the Odisha-born IPS officer said.

Pradhan, who assumed charge as director general of the force in January this year, said the NDRF is ready to provide all possible assistance to state governments in training and procuring necessary equipment for boosting capacity. As part of community strengthening measures, the specialised force has already begun training 9,000 volunteers of the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS).

“We will work on the principle that community is the first responder during a disaster, and more lives and property can be saved through community training. These volunteers will be registered with us and called ‘NDRF Friends’. We will also create a database of them,” he said.

Pradhan said the central government is considering putting a cap on the number of NDRF battalions. The force has 12 battalions (each has around 1,150 personnel) across the country, and is set to add four more in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the National Capital Region.

“If we go on adding battalions, states will not increase their capacity, and that is not in the interest of the nation. Too much dependency on the NDRF is not good for India,” he said.

The Centre, Pradhan said, is keen to focus on some of the ‘mega policies’ such as disaster-resilient infrastructure (DRI) — roads, power grids, water lines, telecommunication — which can withstand earthquakes, cyclones and floods. “The emphasis should be on preventive action rather than responsive action.”

Talking about inducting advanced equipment and technology exchange, the senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer said a number of countries has evinced interest to forge partnerships for disaster management. He said in the last one year, eight countries have issued expressions of interest (EOIs) towards that end.

“We recently organised a workshop in Japan and learnt about thousands of advanced sensors it had installed under the seas. These give a lead time on tsunami and earthquake. We have requested them to help us with this technology, and the authorities there have promised to do so through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),” Pradhan said.

“Israel is informally offering us technologies that can help survive in situations where everything has been blanked out… for example, water can be made out of thin air using the moisture,” he added.

Senior NDRF officials will also make a trip to France in October for a demonstration on Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) disasters. Back home, the disaster response force has recently initiated collaborative research with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for technology and allied assistance.

The NDRF was raised in 2006 for specific tasks of relief and rescue during natural and man-made disasters or threatening situations.