- Define DM acc. to DM Act 2005.
- Argue with reasons the need to include ‘restriction & refrain’ in DM.
Disasters are traditionally perceived to stem from natural hazards like cyclones or floods as India is situated centrally in the Indian Ocean region – often referred to as the ‘World Hazard Belt’. Now, with the outbreak of the Covid-19, it is for the 1st time that a pandemic has been recognized as a ‘notified disaster’ by the GOI. Subsequently, the Disaster Management Act 2005 had been invoked for the 1st time to effectively manage a health crisis.
Acc. to the DM Act 2005, Disaster Management is defined as “a continuous and integrated process of planning, organizing, coordinating and implementing measures which are expedient” for, prevention, mitigation or reduction of risk of any disaster or its severity; capacity-building; preparedness; prompt response; assessing the magnitude of effects; evacuation, rescue, relief; and rehabilitation & reconstruction.
However, documents such as the National Policy on Disaster Management 2009, National Disaster Management Plan 2016, and the National Disaster Management Guidelines on Community based Disaster Risk Resilience draft 2019 – all focus primarily on what one must do to abate a crisis. Accordingly, the emphasis has been on – ‘Rescue, Relief and Recovery’ and the role of institutions & community in these. But due prominence has not been accorded to what one must avoid to effectively mitigate a calamity. Hence, there is a need for incorporation of two more R’s in disaster management – ‘Restriction, and Refrain’.
The ’novel’ disaster highlighted a new dimension that needs to be emphasized in India’s approach towards disaster management.
The inclusion of ‘Restriction’ is necessary to highlight the importance of the legal prohibitions that exist in the DM Act against criminal offences. This will be a deterrent, especially in the wake of fast-spreading fake news. Across the nation there had been a deluge of WhatsApp forwards, and social media posts on various aspects of Covid, which were often unverified & falsely attributed, creating fears among citizenry. Chapter 10 of the Act ‘Offences & Penalties’ enlists activities deemed as criminal offences in the event of a disaster – Art 52 is for any person making false claims to gain relief benefits and Art 54 is for anyone circulating false alarms about the severity of a disaster – have gained importance in the context of Covid 19. Art 60 notes that no court shall take cognizance of an offence unless complaint is made by designated authorities. This provision needs amendment keeping in tandem with the widespread use of social media – there must be a right to file PILs rather than confining the authority to only designated government offices.
Also, it is necessary to instill a culture of ‘Refrain’ from false warnings at the community level. The role of community in disaster management cannot be overemphasized in a crisis situation as they are the first to respond. Hence an important aspect of creating community disaster risk resilience is to inculcate the value of ‘what not to do’ to ensure effective disaster management. Wherein illiteracy rate is so high, people must be trained to realize the authenticity of the news and filter awareness raising alerts from false warnings.
The pandemic has made us realize the need to examine the notion of disaster management and make it more holistic with the incorporation of ‘Restriction’ and ‘Refrain’. Otherwise, a pandemic can easily transform into a nationwide pandemonium simply by the catalytic effect of panic spread through fake news.