Monday, December 1, 2014

Scaling down MGNREGA - a case of economic rationality or a political gimmick

The debate on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Assistance (MGNREGA) (details about the scheme, eligibility, monitoring mechanism, progress made can be seen at its official website), which is perhaps as old as the scheme itself has becomes extremely livid in the recent past.

Two articles, one by Prof Abhijit Banerjee titled “Mr Modi, we need to talk” in HT and
"Rural Guarantee Scheme chokes as funds dry up” in ToI are the latest in this series. I must forewarn that I will play the role of a devil’s advocate and will criticize all that’s going wrong presently in the scheme.

While the TOI article talks about drop in fund allocation from Rs 39000 crores (Rs 390 billions) in 2013-14 to Rs 24000 crores (Rs 240 Billions) in the current financial year and as a result, only 8.3 crores households could be provided jobs out of 10.5 crore households who had applied as on Nov 25, 2014 thus leaving a gap of 2.3 crore households without work. The corresponding numbers last year for the same period were 9.8 crore households out of 10.9 crore households who has applied for job. The article also mentions about pending liabilities of the panchayats and pending wages.
Abhijit in his article mentions that while “he has never been a huge fan of MGNREGA”, the scheme has done something good for the poor and by that he means that 2.2 billion person days of work were generated under the program in 2013-14 covering 50 million households and over 200 million people. This makes it one of the largest welfare programs in the world. He has quoted an Oxford University study which by comparing NSS data with MGNREGA database for 2011 points to a gap of 20% ie 20% of the reported days of work did not happen and how this is an improvement over 50% gap which was reported in 2007-08. Abhijit further points out that work is not entirely unproductive and that in their study in Bihar and Rajasthan, almost all the works carried out under MGNREGA could be traced down. He further says that there has been “less temporary out-migration” from MGNREGA villages that clearly establishes that “program is doing something”.
Abhijit then points out issues in MGNREGA in its present form such as panchayat specificity, inter-state differences which depend on state’s access & ability to utilize and not exactly proportionate to state’s backwardness, frauds (which he points out have come down in recent past), panchayat’s requirements versus State’s inability to match funds such as in Bihar, delay in realizing payments which may vary from few weeks to months and gaps in proper micro level targeting.
He has, as an alternative, proposed a universal cash transfer in the form of a minimum guaranteed income, based on a hypothetical program proposed by Rinku Murgai, Martin Ravallion and Dominique Van de Walle from the World Bank. This according to him would be better option than scaling down MGNREGA since it removes selection & location bias, will be universal and will be easy to implement.

I would like to analyze each of his arguments one by one
Abhijit admits he is not a huge fan of MGNREGA. He does however point out the significant impact on the employment that has been generated under the program making it the largest welfare program in the world. But, the question is – what’s been the outcome of this employment generation? Has it led to creation of productive capital assets (having a life of at least 5 years if not more)? Merely doling out money in the name of wages for works which are either seasonal (and thus need to be undertaken again next season such as de-silting) or which can’t be verified, is a criminal waste of money. It neither adds to the capital nor builds a productive work force. If at all, it deprives the same labor which could have been used elsewhere and thus, in some sense, leads to inflationary tendency in the economy. Moreover, works like de-siltation of drains are something which Panchayats are supposed to carry out from their mandated budgets and taking them up under MGNREGA often implies double accounting.  While de-siltation of drains/tanks are required to be carried out, carrying out such works under MGNREGA is fraught with dangers since a good proportion of these works are often bogus as actual measurement is difficult and any discrepancy can often be attributed to further siltation during the intervening period. My point is, there are more pressing works in villages which can be measured and should take precedence over something which is subjective and highly prone to bogus reporting.

While Abhijit does point to matching on ground the number of works undertaken under the scheme in Bihar & Rajasthan in his study, the issue is regarding the longevity of these works and whether the same can be confirmed for all works undertaken under the Scheme? Or for what proportion of all works, can this be confirmed? This is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein kutcha drains, desilting works and other such one-season works are taken as works existing on ground. They will of course be silted up in the next rain or in the coming season and the same works will be taken up again! Does this amount to creation of works? Is it not a wasteful expenditure? Let such works be taken up by Panchayats/Municipalities from their regular budgets if needed.

Abhijit points out to a 20% gap in MGNREGA reporting and how it’s an improvement over 50% in 2007-08. By its own admission, one-fifth of the total enrolments continue to be bogus and this is in the 8th or 9th year of the scheme! Converted into funding, this means an outgo of at least Rs 5000 Cr – Rs 15000 crores as leakages! Do we need a scheme in its present form which implies such a colossal waste on its own account? This leakage would be at least double if one is to consider the payment made to those who get it without doing any work (bogus works with proper enrolment), mismanagement and administrative leakages. Who are we working for?

There are other serious issues. More developed states like Andhra Pradesh (erstwhile) could draw many more times under the scheme than the states with greater concentration of poor such as Bihar, UP and Jharkhand. The concept of allocation/utilization under the scheme in proportion to the poor population has been conveniently replaced by the allocation based on the state’s capacity to utilize the funds. So, while at the national level, we get a sense of positivity in terms of overall numbers (coverage and expenditure), its actually doing a disservice to poorer and needy states as their share is actually knocked off by relatively more developed states. The question remains- why should the poor and needy suffer because of inability of the state to contribute its share or because of bureaucratic apathy & lackadaisical attitude? Should we not have a more transparent system based on the requirement?

Then there are administrative glitches. I wonder why have we not been able to overcome them by now? While there have been constant improvements in the scheme such as aligning it with Aadhaar and direct payment in the beneficiary account, I recall reading horrifying details of how MGNREGA enrolments were done in the name of villagers who actually exist, their bank accounts were opened and the entire money in their names were drawn for over 4 years fraudulently by the Panchayat official in collusion with Bank official! This would have been a part of 80% of the actual enrolment! While its true that some of these aberrations are bound to happen in a scheme as large as MGNREGA, what if such fudging is more than 15-20% or even more?

The scheme is already going to complete a decade soon since it started. The underlying intentions and objectives of the schemes are highly laudable and there is no doubt that it has helped millions of families in their fight against poverty in a significant manner. But then, there are too many operational and economic issues in its operations. The basic issue remains – should one go on continuing a welfare scheme where while income is being provided to the needy families, the productive outcome of the scheme is seriously doubtful. The average annual outgo has been Rs 35000 crores plus and overall, thus, it might be more than Rs 250,000 crores cumulatively. Such schemes obviously come at a cost of capital development and I feel, time has come when we need to strike a balance between income needs, employment potential and productive capital investment. The idea of a universal guaranteed income scheme proposed as an alternative is ludicrous. The country doesn’t have that kind of resources to simply fritter around and if we take pride in advocating our demographic dividends, it’s time we start showing the results of this so called dividend rather that continuing with the “white man’s burden”!

So, what can be done? One thing which certainly must not be done is to try and limit it to certain number of Blocks in the country. Poor exist in all parts of the country and limiting the scheme to certain blocks will be hugely unfair to the poor in the blocks left out.
The list of works permissible under the scheme is quite inclusive and has all good intentions. But that’s where the problem lies. My suggestion is more to do with what all should be taken out from the list of permissible works and that we should take up only capital works, at the panchayat level, which are of simple nature under the scheme. I thus propose as under

1.       All works which are purely earthen work based and without any capital should henceforth be discontinued. This means that works such as desilting of drains, construction of kutcha drains etc should be discontinued.

2.       Only those works which have longevity of more than certain time period say 4-5 years should be taken up under the scheme.

3.       Some of the works such as construction of class rooms in village school, based on the strength of school children, coloring of government buildings in a uniform manner etc can be taken up.

4.       Water conservation works such as mini check dams, lined drains, water harvesting structures can be taken up in a big way.

5.       Construction of individual toilets can be an integral part of the scheme (it’s been included recently)

While I may be criticized for not knowing about the scheme in detail, I am of the humble opinion that too much money (as percentage of overall allocation under the scheme) has been wasted and the scheme cannot continue in its present form as not only it’s not sustainable, its also creating an unproductive dependency syndrome among the working age group who would have worked otherwise and contributed productively.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tackling natural disasters - a checklist for District Administration preparedness

Based on my experience in being a part of the relief & restoration effort as a result of Hudhud Cyclone in Visakhapatnam (details can be seen in my blog), I have drawn a tentative checklist for District Officials on their preparedness to meet the challenges arising from such a natural disaster. The list is only indicative and is by no means exhaustive. This is meant to be a guide for the District Collector and all others concerned so that the administration is ready to meet the challenge.

Checklist of preparations before/during the Cyclone

1.      District Collector in consultation with police and revenue staff identify the vulnerable areas and prepare an action plan for the forces required from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). A requisition, based on District level requirements can be placed by the state government with the NDRF and forces can be positioned /kept in the state of readiness at the district level.

2.      The civil supplies stock under the targeted public distribution system is in place at the FPS point for the entire month.

3.      All the MLS points are full of stocks at least for an additional month. This will ensure that stocks are moved to FPS points at a short notice in case ex-gratia is announced.

4.      Civil Supply Department may consider providing the civil supplies stocks in pre-packed bags such as rice in 10 and 5 Kg bags, sugar in one kg bag and so on. This will ensure that stocks are distributed quickly, without wastage and without any complaints of under weighment. (to be taken up at the state level).

5.      Joint Collector should review with all retail shops and other such retails points such as Kendriya Bhandar outlets, Big-bazaar etc to ensure that sufficient stocks of other essentials such as dal, salt, edible oil, soaps, candles and milk (of longer duration variety such a week or 2-4 months) are available with them. A district level inventory can accordingly be prepared and kept ready. This can also be advertised so as to contain the speculative price rise.

6.      Pruning of trees to be taken up on a scientific basis. This should be an annual exercise and can be taken up immediately after the monsoon. The exercise should be carried out for all trees whether public or those located in private properties in the likely vulnerable areas and in thickly populated /congested areas. (ii) Pruning should necessarily be taken up of all trees located adjacent to electrical poles/sub-stations. (iii) a special exercise should be taken up for pruning of trees located on highways – district, State and national and branches which are hung close to the highway or are dangerous are pruned. The entire pruning exercise should be taken up scientifically to ensure that pruning is done only to the extent required and in a manner that the exercise is useful for renewal of plant growth. (DFO/State horticulture Dept/Forest Dept)

7.      A detailed review of all existing hoardings should be taken up immediately in the entire coastal belt and all such hoardings which are considered dangerous/risky should be taken off permanently. There should be no hoarding zone in all vulnerable areas such as beach roads, important cross-sections, congested roads and thickly populated areas.

8.      The town planning wing of municipal administration department should come out with the standards for putting up such hoardings. These will include the base structure, its design, thickness of material and each of such hoardings should necessarily be approved so that accountability can be fixed up.

9.      As a general precautionary measure, all hoardings along with their base structure should be taken down when the first warning signals are announced. This will prevent any such damage likely to arise due to falling of these hoardings.

10.  The town planning wing should take up inspection of all display boards and other such materials used in front of shops and should take down anything which is of flimsy material or is based on a weak structure. It was noticed that large number of such display boards fell down causing widespread damages and posed risk due to the material used such as glass & tin etc.

11.  Electricity Dept. should ensure that inventory of material such as poles, wires and other technical materials are available at various points within the district. The basic idea is to minimize the travel time from stock point to the point needed so that electricity can be restored in the minimum possible time. (Secy Power, CMD APPDCL, Dist level incharge)

12.  A joint exercise should be carried out by RTA and Insurance cos to ensure that all three wheelers, two wheelers, Government vehicles and other such vehicles are insured. This will, in the long run prevent losses to individuals owning these vehicles and will also help government save on the likely ex-gratia in case of damages of these vehicles. A similar exercise should also be carried out for all fisheries vehicles such as mechanized boats, trawlers etc. It should be made clear that no ex-gratia will be paid for vehicles and it is in owner’s interest to get his/her vehicle insured.

13.  The concerned municipality/panchayat should take up a massive exercise to ensure that all drains in the city/municipality/towns/panchayats are de-silted before/immediately after the monsoon. This will ensure that no water is clogged anywhere during such a disaster.

14.  At the time of initial alert of any impending disaster, the concerned municipality/panchayat should ensure sufficient water supply and wide publicity advising people to store water which can last at least for a week/fortnight. It should also be advised that drinking water shouldn’t be used for washing purpose etc. All overhead tanks in the apartments also should be filled up during this period. Special tankers, if needed, should be pressed into operation in congested areas/vulnerable/slums so that people can store water in sufficient quantity.

15.  Municipality/Gram Panchayat (GP) should ensure that all garbage collection points are cleaned off all the garbage/debris when the initial alert is sounded. This will prevent their spilling over on the roads/nearby areas after the disaster when cleaning exercise can’t be taken up immediately.

16.  Material required for sanitizing the areas and for maintaining hygiene such as bleaching powder is available and is stocked at ward level points.

17.  People should be advised to buy and store candles, torches & batteries and preferably solar powered lights so that they have some arrangements when the power supply can’t be restored for some time after the disaster. While it’s not for the government to advertise, the private manufacturers can take up selling of inverters/generators in such areas. Installation of generators was especially useful in apartments.

18.  Municipality/GP should ensure that all houses in its jurisdiction are numbered and that a proper inventory of all residential and other properties is updated and maintained. This comes in very handy when an enumeration exercise is taken up after the disaster for inventorying the damages and also, acts against fraudulent claims. 

19.  People should also buy diesel needed for running of such generators at least for the week’s requirement and store them safely.

20.  Road & Building Department (R&B) as well as NHAI should take up an exercise for a detailed inspection of their roads in the vulnerable areas and take up repairs wherever needed before the disaster. It is observed that cutting of roads during the disaster becomes a major bottleneck in restoring normalcy. (Secy R&B and SE R&B)

21.  An inventory of JCBs, water tankers, dozers and lorries should be prepared by RTO of the District and this list should also be shared with the neighboring districts. This will help their requisition at short notice.

22.  All PHCs, sub-centers, dispensaries and hospitals are stocked of all necessary medicines and other materials which may be required for taking up relief work in case of injuries. The DMHO should certify to that extent.

23.  The existing cyclone relief centers should be inspected by a joint team of tehsildar and CI/SHO and additional places which are safe, located at higher safe location and are permanent structures such as schools should be identified and a detailed action plan, mandal-wise for carrying out necessary evacuation is made and kept ready. This should be reviewed by the District Collector in May/June and necessary repairs, if any, based on the inspection report should be carried out. The action plan will also include arrangements envisaged for the electricity/generators and availability of drinking water and sanitation facilities in such relief centers.

24.  District administration should also be ready with a plan for food, water and milk arrangements in such relief camps. A detailed exercise should be taken up to assess the food requirement (cooked) in such relief camps and the arrangements are in place beforehand.

25.  District administration (and likewise with the State heads at the state level) should hold an interactive session with NGOs/philanthropical agencies/corporates and other religious bodies to try and engage them in relief work in a manner they can contribute maximum. This might include their assistance in looking after relief camps in their respective areas, providing food packets, providing man-power to manage relief camps or any other such assistance. A proper plan in place beforehand engaging all such agencies is extremely useful.

26.  One of the immediate negative fallout of such a disaster is the breakdown of telecommunication facilities mainly due to the damages to their relay towers. Surprisingly, BSNL couldn’t operate for a while due to shortage of diesel. This is something totally avoidable. A meeting should be convened at the district level (also at the state level with all state heads of various tele-communication companies) to assess their state of readiness and whether they have sufficient inventory of material required for restoration of services immediately.

27.  A short film can be made by I&PR dept. meant for general public which will highlight the precautions people should take whenever such a disaster strikes. This will enable dissemination of information in time. This should be played in all cinema theaters during May-Oct period and also be shown in local channels. Similar advisory should also be made for radio and used widely during the May-Oct period. (I&PR Dept, DPRO)

28.  All vacancies esp. at the top and second and third level are filled up in all line departments in vulnerable districts by April so that all such staff/officers are positioned and are well aware of their area/duties by the time cyclone strikes. Absence of top district level officers due to vacancies proved to be a major hindrance in carrying out relief and restoration.  (Dist Collector to take up with the concerned HoD immediately)

29.  The district administration should prepare a detailed action plan to carry out (i) enumeration work to assess agriculture and property damages (ii) to receive and distribute civil supplies material, over and above, what’s already stocked in case of emergency (iii) restore electrical lines (iv) telecom lines (v) restore water supply and carrying out clearance work of roads of the debris to make them road worthy. The action plan will include man-power requirement and material required to carry out such relief and restoration work. This should be communicated to the state government and a meeting, with all concerned state heads should be carried out at the state level to ensure the required availability. While the actual requirement can be known only once the disaster has struck, it is suggested that at least 50% of the additional man-power and 75-80% of the material requirement as per the action plan should be procured and stationed at various points within the district.

30.  The district collector should also convene a meeting with various PSU units, installations, industries and agencies such as APIIC, Dist manager industries and take stock of their preparedness to meet any eventuality arising out of such a disaster. Focus will be on their rescue plan, shutting down of units prior to disaster and ensuring that all important units within each of such installations are safe.

31.  It should be seen that officers/staff when deputed from other districts to help the district administration are not kept idle. There should be a central control point (may be headed by AO collectorate or a deputy collector/any other senior Tahsildar) for such officials being deputed from elsewhere and they should be assigned specific duty and place of work as well as reporting and working hierarchy depending upon their subject expertise and skill sets.

32.  A control room should be set up in collectorate which should be properly manned on a 24/7 basis and should be well equipped with telecommunication facilities. A reserve control room also should be set up elsewhere in some other office which can be used in case of breakdown of any of the facilities in the original control room. A strong, fully equipped control room is a necessary pre-requisite for any disaster control.

33.  The officer in charge of IMD center should constantly update the control room every three hours on the movement of cyclone. A register should be maintained to track the movement and the information should be available to media.

34.  A media room should be set up within collectorate which should be equipped with live channels and facilities for media to send their reports. It is important as crucial inputs for general public can be given to media from time to time and any rumors which normally run high at such times could be quashed with proper dissemination of information.

35.  District collector should, at a specific time, hold interaction with press and media every day to highlight the efforts and also to point out important information as might be needed for general public.

36.  District administration, as a precautionary measure close down all educational institutions, both public and private at least a day prior to the expected cyclone. Similarly, other such places where public gathering is there such as cinema halls should be closed down. All industrial and manufacturing units should also be closed down at least a day in advance. This will minimize movement of people on the day of cyclone.

37.  Hostels should however continue to run as it is and it should be seen that children don’t go out during this period. This is the safest way to keep them in a place as their movement at this point of time otherwise might expose them to the cyclone. The hostel warden should ensure that all stocks and essentials are in place. The DSWO, DBWO and DTWO should ensure that all hostels are functional and equipped with all required supplies.

38.  A meeting should be taken up with the person in charge of Institutions such as Zoo to ascertain the action plan for safe custody of animals during the cyclone. Their safety should be ensured which will also imply safety of others.

39.  Matter may be taken up with the state government to install at least 5 hotlines directly connecting the District Collector/SP with the state government. These lines should be all weather and will not depend upon the telecommunication lines.

The above list is not exhaustive and is indicative in nature. The District Collector should in consultation with other officers and subject experts take all necessary action as deemed appropriate to ensure that the casualties are minimized and damages are contained and also to initiate all such steps with the required manpower and equipment in proportion to the intensity of the disaster to see that the restoration work is done at the earliest.





Tuesday, November 4, 2014

learning from Hudhud Cyclone - Do's & don'ts of disaster management

In the last week of September 2014, there was news regarding an impending low pressure tropical cyclone “Hudhud” likely to hit coast of AP/Odisha on Oct 12. As I was waiting for posting in the State Government of Andhra Pradesh upon completion of my stint in Government of India, I was posted as Special Officer, relief and disaster management to be stationed in Visakhapatnam (vizag) in an order issued dated Oct 8, 2014 and to report there immediately. I accordingly reached Visakhapatnam on Oct 9 and had detailed review with concerned officials including District Collector, Commissioner of Police and DIG NDRF (National Disaster Response Force). There were number of video conferences with the state officials in Hyderabad and with the Cabinet Secretary along with Secretaries of various ministeries in Government of India.

Hudhud originated from a low pressure system that formed under the influence of an upper-air cyclonic circulation in the Andaman Sea on October 6. Hudhud intensified into a cyclonic storm on October 8 and as a Severe Cyclonic Storm on October 9. Hudhud underwent rapid deepening in the following days and was classified as a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm by the IMD. Shortly before landfall near Visakhapatnam (AP) on October 12, Hudhud reached its peak strength with wind speeds of 185-195 km/h (125-130 mph) and a minimum central pressure of 960 mbar (28.35 inHg). The system then drifted northwards towards  Uttar Pradesh & Nepal, causing widespread rains in both areas and heavy snowfall in the latter. I was staying in the circuit house and could feel the impact of Hudhud on early morning of Sunday (Oct 12) when the strong gale accompanied by rains kept hitting all windows furiously and rain water entered in the circuit house as a result. I couple of window panes broke as a result. As the day progressed, I realized the severe intensity of the cyclone. I did venture out couple of times and the vehicle was hit by heavy lashes and strong winds. I could with difficulty reach Collectorate by 9.30 am and was there throughout till late evening when the cyclone subsided. I hadn’t seen anything like this ever.  


The intensity was so severe that tree got uprooted, electrical poles fell down and hoardings flew in the air like kites. Hudhud caused extensive damage to the city of Visakhapatnam and the neighbouring districts of Vizianagaram and Srikakulam of Andhra Pradesh.
The relief and rescue work carried out, before, during and after the cyclone was exemplary and loss to human lives could be minimized as a result. It was a herculean effort during which more than 200,000 people were shifted to safer places (relief camp or other safe places) and as a result, the number of deaths could be minimized.

I would like to draw upon the learning based on the actual relief, rescue and rehabilitation. First, the positives based on the relief and rescue efforts.
The use of technology, in terms of tracking and monitoring the movement of cyclone, its direction, intensity and location, was perfect. The dynamic maps, posted by Indian meteorological department on its website as well as some of the sites maintained overseas, provided almost perfect information about the impending cyclone. When the cyclone actually struck the land at Kailashgiri Hills in Vizag city, it coincided with the likely timing, intensity and periodicity. It was due to this perfect knowledge in advance that all necessary efforts required for carrying out relief and rescue could be put in place. The vehicular movement on Chennai-Kolkata National Highway was stopped 16 hours in advance from Oct 11 onwards and this helped minimize the vehicular damages likely to have been caused by felling of trees and cables. People were informed at least 3 days in advance and they were kept continuously updated on cyclone’s progress and as a result, there was minimum movement on the day of cyclone. All Schools and other educational institutions were closed on Saturday ie a day in advance. The exact and near perfect information about the cyclone could thus prevent and minimize casualties in a very major way. This was also pointed out by the Prime Minister during his interaction with officials on Oct 14 in Vizag.

Sufficient availability of NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) in advance – Each unit of NDRF consists of 45 skilled personnel trained in carrying out first medical relief, tree cutting and rescue operations. A total of 15 units of NDRF were sent to AP and they were in position by Oct 10/11. A DIG level officer of NDRF monitored their operations from Vizag. The number of NDRF units was further increased to 24 and each team was further divided into two teams and thus we had at least 48-50 units in places. Their timely presence and flexibility in increasing their presence plus the commitment shown by them in carrying out relief and rescue work, esp getting the roads cleared by removing fallen trees was exemplary.

The coordination between the district administration, police, NDRF, Indian Navy and other state government departments was perfect and this enabled the district administration to evacuate a large number of people esp fisherman families from the low-lying coaster vulnerable villages to relief camps.

The immediate rushing of the Chief Minister of AP Mr Chandrababu Naidu on Oct 13, within 12 hours of Cyclone hitting the coast and his camping in Vizag for a week ensured that relief, rescue, rehabilitation and restoration work was carried out with an amazing speed and sincerity. While there are theoretical concerns with the presence of a VIP post disaster and whether it affects the relief work, I can, based on the experience of Hudhud in Vizag can confidently say that not only immediate relief in terms of ex-gratia distribution of rice and other civil supplies commodities could be arranged, the restoration work whether making roads traffic worthy by clearing the debris of fallen trees or restoration of electricity, which suffered massive damages due to falling of electrical poles and damages to sub-stations, could be carried out with an amazing speed.
In fact, at one point of time within 4 days of Cyclone hitting the city, there were 14000 skilled specialized field level personnel of electricity distribution company working day and night to restore electricity. In fact, most parts of the city had electricity restored within less than a week and this is truly praiseworthy. Further, as a result of his presence, the HODs of almost all line departments such as roads & building, municipal administration department, civil supplies, transport, medical & health and animal husbandry were camping in Vizag personally monitoring relief and rehabilitation work. Chief Minister’s presence speeded up restoration and helped built people confidence in administration.

Now, let’s look at the learnings and how some of the interventions could be improved.

When a natural disaster, of a magnitude such as Hudhud strikes, the effort of the administration on the eve of impending disaster is primarily focused on the rescue operations which include identifying vulnerable areas, setting up relief and rescue camps, shifting people to these camps and evacuation from the vulnerable areas. The underlying objective is to minimize losses whether its human casualties or damage and loss of properties. However, somewhere, in the process, the post disaster relief operations  gets neglected. A detailed micro-planning is therefore simultaneously needed not only for the rescue operations but also on the relief arrangements once the disaster has struck.
Civil Supplies and Food grains.
Stocking Civil Supplies requirements, esp rice, sugar, K oil and salt for the month’s requirement at each of the MLS points. Effort should be made to distribute the month’s quota, esp. for the October month when its more of an annual phenomenon, of rice, sugar & K oil in advance so that all card holders have the month’s supply with them. Additionally, MLS points can be filled with stocks for a month for the next month which can immediately be moved out in case ex-gratia supplies are announced.

The inventory availability of essential items, in addition, such as Dal, spices, salt and their stock situation for the district as well as all the neighboring districts can be ascertained and keep in ready condition so that the same can be moved in quickly if needed after the disaster.

Private traders/retailers/shopkeepers plus government/semi-government outlets can be advised to store all such items in sufficient quantity from July onwards and a strict vigil may be kept to ensure against hoardings and speculative price rise anticipating shortages. People can be asked to purchase such essential food-grains in advance for October so that everybody has them in the month of October.

Pruning of trees – the Prime Minister, during his review meeting with the District and State Officials in Vizag highlighted the need for pruning of trees and how a timely intervention in this regard, based on a scientific method could have prevented damages esp on the electrical installations and poles resulting due to falling of trees and their branches. It was observed that most of the heavy branches while coming down took along with electrical wires and poles too fell down as a result. In fact, the forest department and social forestry department along with Municipal Administration department can take up scientific pruning of all trees esp in the coastal belt and cities as a regular exercise in the month of April –July for all trees in commons /open areas /road side/ parks. They should also take up pruning of trees in private plots, based on individual requests, free of cost. Such as annual exercise will also enable fresh growth of greens and trees will be healthier and safe in the long run.  This has been one of the major learning.
Hoardings – it was observed that a major reason for damages was due to falling of the weak iron frame structures used for roadside hoardings. Municipalities, in order to get resources from advertising often permit indiscriminate hoardings on the roadside margins, traffic islands and other open spaces. There are no guidelines or standards for the kind of frames these hoardings should use and advertisers, in order to cut corners, compromise by putting very weak frame for these hoardings. It was seen that most of such hoardings fell down causing widespread damages to the nearby structures, vehicles and public installations such as electrical lines.  

 There are three learnings emanating – firstly, there should be no hoarding zones esp. vulnerable areas such as beach front roads/properties at least up to a kilometer from the beach. This prohibition should also be strictly implemented. Secondly, Municipal Administration Dept should come out with strict standards which must be mandatorily met by the advertisers while putting up these hoardings. The primary focus of these standards should be strength of the support frame and locations on which hoardings can be put up. This will prevent the likely damages in future significantly. Thirdly, all hoardings should necessarily be brought down by the advertisers at their own cost at least 10 days before the intended disaster when early warnings have been issued. They can be put up again after the disaster has passed through.
A similar exercise, prescribing strict standards for the display boards which are put up in front of every shop should be taken up. It was seen that lot of damages were caused when most of these display boards, along with their electrical fittings fell down in front of such shops and posed great danger to post disaster relief operations due to littering of dangerous material such as cut-glasses, electrical fittings and display material with sharp edges. There are no specifications at present and shops/suppliers of such display boards put up flimsy though attractive material just to save on cost. 

District level postings esp at the level of those heading should be filled up – A number of crucial positions such as the position of municipal commissioner, Vizag municipal corporation, VC Vizag Urban Development Authority (VUDA) and Police Commissioner, Vizag city were vacant at the time of cyclone. In addition, the Joint Collector was under orders of transfer and waiting to be relieved. While the situation is one of the those rare ones arising perhaps due to the division of the State and confusion regarding cadre allocation of senior civil servants and police officials, the absence of such important officials at the top in district administration did impact the relief measures in a major way. The impact perhaps was most severe in Vizag Municipal Corporation which suffered from serious lack of coordination and a situation where most of field level staff esp in health and sanitation wing either stayed away from duty or had a complete lackadaisical attitude towards cleaning of the city. It led to a situation where debris and garbage continued to lie on roads and it was NDRF teams and workers sent from other municipalities who were busy clearing the debris from roads.  Such a situation can be avoided if all top level positions in the districts are filled up in time.

Need for a detailed micro-level planning at the district level – while district collector and his team of officials did a yeoman service and worked round the clock, it was, at some level, more a reaction to an emerging emergency situation from time to time and their efforts could have been better put in place if there was a detailed micro level planning done in advance. To give an illustration, there was no planning done to decide on parking of vehicles coming from other districts carrying relief material such as packed food, water and milk sachets, the areas requiring distribution of these materials and the distribution plan. There was utter chaos on the day after the cyclone when trucks carrying packed food and milk came right in front of collectorate and there were looted immediately by the mob in a near stampede situation. This caused tremendous embarrassment to all other efforts which were done. The situation could have been totally avoided if it was planned in advance where the trucks will be parked (preferably at the entrance of the city), the division of material received based on where it needs to be sent (relief camp wise and areas which were vulnerable or where slums are located and were affected) and the man-power planning for carrying out this entire exercise. It would have been best if this exercise was done in advance and officials put in place accordingly and the entire exercise could be scaled up depending upon the gravity of damage.
Detailed manpower planning and deployment plan is needed thus for the following such situations:

1.      Receipt of relief material (food packets/water & Milk sachets), its storage, re-segregation based on end use requirement, and its transportation plan 

2.     Receiving and distributing civil supplies material (ex-gratia announcements of rice etc) from other districts, the exact transportation plan till the FPS level and the entire logistics needed therein

3.     A detailed plan is also needed for forming teams consisting of members of NDRF, Police, Municipality and Electricity department for road clearance. This can be done in advance or immediately after such disasters and municipal commissioner should be in charge of such an exercise.

4.    The municipal corporation must ensure that there is no letup clearance of garbage etc and that teams are in place and working.

5.    At the State level, HODs of electricity department, civil supplies department, medical and health department should plan for the material and manpower requirements as needed for restoration of electrical installations, civil supplies requirements and medical and health needs. While the actual requirements will vary depending upon the impact, advance planning and manpower and material placements will be extremely useful in speeding up relief efforts. Specifically, electrical materials such as additional poles, wires and other material required for restoring sub-stations can be stored in such vulnerable districts in vulnerable months (for Sept-Oct months) in advance.

6.       Teams required for carrying out enumeration of damages and their immediate deployment at the earliest. State Government was extremely prompt in doing this and the enumeration was carried out in record time. However, all efforts must be made to ensure cent percent enumeration as number of complaints comes in regarding incomplete or wrong enumeration.

Need for insurance cover – the coastal belt in AP as well as some of the neighboring states have a long history of cyclones and associated natural disasters striking at regular intervals. In fact, cyclone warnings are issued almost every October in the coastal belt. The damages that occurred as a result of Hudhud cyclone can broadly be classified into four categories (i) damages to public properties and installations such as roads, electrical installations, trees; (ii) damages to individual properties which was mainly private vehicles (cars/auto-rickshaws/two wheelers) and breaking of glass panes of windows or damage to property due to the impact of a fall of a tree/pole; a major damage within private property category is fishing boats and equipment such net;(iii) damages to agriculture fields with standing crops and horticulture plantations including coconut trees and (iv) damages to public sector undertakings including buildings of the state governments (collectorate for instance), Vizag Steel Plant, Naval installations etc. Most of these damages, except four wheeled private vehicles such as cars, are not insured and as a result, the financial impact of such damages came directly on the owner of such properties.



While the state government has been prompt enough to announce ex-gratia relief pertaining to crop including horticulture crop damages, losses to fishermen and damages to kutcha houses, the fact remains that the owner will have to bear the loss in most of the other categories whether it’s a private individual or an institution. It is also a fact that this will cost a huge burden on the state government.

All this point to an urgent pressing need to bring in maximum number of properties and other instruments which are insurable under the insurance cover. The general insurance companies do provide insurance cover for properties, vehicles, agriculture crops and against natural disasters and individual losses and the disastrous financial impact of such a calamity can be minimized if there’s insurance cover.
A drive thus needs to be taken up for providing insurance cover to (i) the entire agriculture area cropped during the kharif season including horticulture crops – the state government can be a facilitator between the agriculturists and AICL (a Government of India insurance company exclusively for the purpose of agriculture insurance); (ii) vehicular insurance including two wheelers and third party insurance of three-wheelers auto-rickshaws as well as fishing vessels (iii) individual properties such as houses; (iv) Government /institutional properties such as Collectorate building etc. A team at the state government level can be constituted now and it will carry out the task of maximizing insurance cover in the entire coastal belt.
Such a move would not only imply for covering of losses of individuals including farmers and timely compensation, it would ultimately imply a huge saving for the state government.  In fact, the premium of providing such insurance cover could be on a sharing basis between the individual and the state government (on a pre-determined transparent criteria depending upon the category) as the state government’s portion of this entire premium will be fraction of what’s being paid as ex-gratia.

Need to relook at the building designs and material being used in such cyclone prone areas
 Vizag airport which was recently opened and was state of the art on par with any other new airports is a modern building whose outer fa├žade on all sides primarily was glass. A look at the damage caused to the airport building by the cyclone where all glasses as well as the roof of the building was destroyed and literally blown away, is scary. It’s as if only the skeleton remains while the cover has been taken off. Similar damages, of structures, which had relied heavily on glass material have been observed in the city whether it’s a prominent hotel or individual houses.
 This raises a question whether the town and country planning should not prescribe the building types and materials to be used in such cyclone prone areas and thereby ban the usage of certain types of construction material?

 It's been truly a very humbling experience facing nature's fury in a disaster such as Hudhud cyclone. However, proper planning, use of technology, inter-department coordination, detailed micro level planning and ability to plan in advance will help minimize damages and restore facilities at the earliest.
A detailed suggestive checklist for district administration's preparedness to meet any challenges arising out of such a natural disaster and to be in a state of readiness so as to minimize the losses and also to ensure that relief is provided immediately and restoration is taken up in the shortest possible time, can be seen here. A copy has been sent to all coastal District Collectors in AP and also the Head of Departments in the state capital. In addition, at the state level, care may also be taken to ensure that some of the key functionaries such as Commissioner, Relief is exempted from taking up any other assignment which implies his absence from the office such as that of Election Observer's