There’s got to be something seriously wrong in the state of affairs if the authorities refuse to take lessons from instances that clearly show that it was laxity and lack of response that caused the situation to deteriorate. It happened when terrorists struck Mumbai on 26/11 and Mumbai police helplessly tried to tackle them while the crack anti-terrorist squad NSG sat at the Delhi airport waiting for transportation that could take them to action spot. It happened again when heavens opened up in Uttrakhand hills and torrents of water cascaded down on pilgrims at Kedarnath killing thousands with thousands still missing. It took authorities four days to realise that they needed expert help to rescue people stranded and dying in the hills with water and boulders raining down on them. And then again, when 9 bombs blew up at Bodhgaya temple in Bihar on July 7. Mind you, here the initial reports after the blasts at around 5.30 AM, were that there were terrorists hiding inside the temple complex.
Even then the teams of NIA and NSG waited at the Delhi airport waiting for an aircraft to take them to Bodhgaya. They eventually reached at 6.30 PM – thirteen hours after the blasts took place and after hundreds of policemen from Bihar and trampled all over the blast site. Have a look at these facts too in the latest display of lack of disaster management or quick response. The distance between New Delhi and Patna is 852 Km-a flight time of one hour and thirty minutes. And the distance between Patna and Bodhgaya is just 110 kms-presumably a flight time of 30 minutes. The NSG teams were given an aged BSF aircraft finally which reached near Patna and had to return to Delhi because it could not proceed to Bodhgaya due to bad weather which that particular aircraft could not handle.
There are 9 commercial flights that fly from Delhi to Patna on any given day. And that too at frequent intervals. Was it such a huge problem for the government to requisition any of these flights for an emergency duty for NSG and NIA and fly them to Patna from where choppers could have been on a standby to fly them to Bodhgaya. The teams would effectively have been at the action spot in less than two hours! And they took 13 hours and ironically via the same route that we have just discussed. Except that the NIA drove down to Bodhgaya from Patna airport. No one thought of having helicopters on standby for a mission of this importance. And that also when there is a presence of commercial helicopters at the Patna airport which could have been taken over by the local government for emergency duty.
Eventually it all boils down to the ability to handle crisis situation and the government throwing its might behind something that is apparently serious. In Uttrakhand, the NDMA teams were not summoned or alerted until the time it dawned to government that the situation was so serious that thousands could perish. Till then it was the hapeless Utakhand police and tiny police teams in Kedarnath and surrounding areas that tried to help. By the time the NDMA was alerted and government decided that it was time for a quick response, it was too late. Eventually it boiled down to Amy and Air Force to act the saviours, fighting against odds and even being hampered by VVIP sightseeing visitors. They succeeded but not before body bags piled up and the once bustling township was turned into a ghost town.
There is no doubt that predicting a natural calamity of the kind that rattled Uttrakhand is a tough task and tackling it a difficult task. But there have to be disaster management on a standby especially when the kind of rains that hit Uttrakhand were predicted at least three weeks before they struck. The key word here is also response. There have to quick response teams that react quickly and have the facilities to reach the trouble spot as soon as possible. Indeed if only the Air Force and Army had the capabilities to handle a crisis like this, there should have been an immediate directions issued by the government to request their services.
The bomb blasts at Bodhgaya were fortunately of low intensity and timed to hit at 5.30 AM odd when there were no visitors except inmates of the temple complex. The perpetrators of this act, for reasons best known to them, chose to have 9 different IEDs, which ensured that explosive content in each IED was low. Had they selected fewer bombs with more explosive in each IED, the injuries would have been far more than two. The CCTV footage released showed that in one of the blasts there were at least 10-12 people around the spot where the explosive could be seen going off. Fortunately the intensity of explosive content in this bomb was low enough to throw out more smoke then death.
Hence the extreme necessity of NSG and NIA teams reaching the spot quickly to ensure they could gather enough forensic evidence to unravel the mystery behind the low intensity blasts. Thirteen hours to reach a spot is just not acceptable. Indeed, the teams could have driven down to Bodhgaya in that time from Delhi with full equipment.
After 26/11 there had been discussions on the need to have NSG hubs at various spots and a few did come up. It was also decided that NSG would have the authority to requisition any commercial aircraft to a crisis spot. Why that did not happen this time has not been explained till the time of going Press. Fortunately there were no militants hiding in the temple complex as early reports had suggested other Mumbai would have been repeated all over again and what the militants were unable to achieve with bombs, they would have done with weapons.
There has to be a situation where the experts have to be rushed to spot via any means possible. It does not matter if the NSG and NIA teams had to take over three commercial flights at IGI airport and flown down to Patna. Surely the might of the government would have made that possible with just a single telephone call to the airport.
The same holds true to natural disasters like the one in Uttrakhand. The government needed to ride rough shod on all proper procedures as long as the purpose of saving lives were achieved. Expert teams of NDMA and others needed to be dashed across via any means possible. What is the purpose of flagging off relief trucks grandly and then having them stranded in Dehradoon because they ran out of fuel. And no way to get them to a place where they were needed.
Far too many times have this slow response lead to serious problems in a crisis situation. Indeed had the army and air force not stepped in in Uttrakhand, the death toll would have been massive. The armed forces rescued around 1.20 lakh people in Uttrakhand. Imagine what would have happened if the Air Force and Army had not volunteered to help when they did.
Agencies like the NDMA which have had a good record in past in handling emergencies need to be given government support in the time of crisis. Just like the NSG and NIA needed to be give unflinching support and assistance in time of necessity. If they are to reach a certain spot within a certain time, all plugs have to be pulled to ensure there is no glitch. The government has to realise that a crisis situation whether caused by a natural calamity or a man made calamity, cannot be handled like a political crisis or a no-confidence motion in Parliament. It needs physical presence of experts to show their expertise. That cannot happen if the experts are neither given a go ahead nor given amenities to do their bit. The lack of quick response has causes problems in past and continue to do so. We can only hope that this was the last time!