India?s Disaster Management Apparatus

By Hrishikesh Utpat

Disaster management is an area that commands great significance, especially in a nation like India. India, home to 121 crore people, has an average population density of 364 people per square kilometer (as per 2011 Census); this amplifies the adverse impact of natural disaster.

Further compounding this threat is the disaster profiling of India. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, almost 85% of the country is vulnerable to single or multiple disasters and about 57% of its area lies in high seismic zones. Approximately 40 million hectares of the country’s land area is prone to flood, about 8% of the total land mass is vulnerable to cyclone and 68% of the area is susceptible to drought.

In light of India’s sensitivity towards disaster, and keeping in mind two major disasters that struck this year – the Uttarakhand floods, and Cyclone Phailin that hit Odisha (both cases provide contrasting studies towards management of calamities) – it would be prudent to understand the existing disaster management apparatus in India.

Existing Framework

Disaster Management has been discussed since pre-Independence times. The Arthashastra, (a treatise on public administration by Chanakya in the 4th century B.C), devoted a section to mitigation measures to combat famines. Modern methods of crisis management began to be applied from the late 1870s when the first Famine Commission suggested formulation of Famine Codes and the establishment of Agriculture Departments in the provinces to improve agricultural production as a safeguard against famines as well as preparatory measure to deal with acute scarcities occasioned by the frequent failure of rains.

The 7th Schedule of the Constitution of India defines various topics on which the state and central government’s legislative and executive powers is extended to. This is done via the 3 lists – union, state and concurrent. Disaster Management is not mentioned in any of these 3 lists.

The legal framework is provided by the National Disaster Management Act, 2005. This act creates the National Executive Committee (NEC) as its executive arm. Similarly, there is a State Disaster Management Authority and State Executive Commission. Keeping in mind the vast diversity in the nature of the country, and vast disasters that may strike, it is essential to de-centralize disaster management as far as possible. Accordingly, a District Disaster Management Authority has also been constituted under the NDM Act, 2005.

The basic responsibility to undertake rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures in the event of natural disasters rests with the State Governments. Most states have a relief commissioner, working under state revenue department. Every state also has a State Crisis Management Committee, under the Chief Secretary. The District Magistrate or Collector is in charge of disaster management for that particular district.

The Union Government plays a key supportive role in terms of physical and financial resources and providing complementary measures such as early warning and co-ordination of efforts of all Union ministries, departments and organizations. In order to provide financial support, there is a National Calamity Contingency Fund. A National Crisis Management Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary, and a National Disaster Management Authority, headed by the Prime Minister have been constituted.

Furthermore, to provide “boots-on-the-ground” support during disasters, a separate National Disaster Relief Force has been constituted. Its personnel are properly trained and given logistical support in order to provide relief during calamities. Similarly, the army, navy and air-force are also roped in for support during disasters.


Unfortunately, despite the creation of this functional framework, the actual implementation of disaster management strategies has several shortcomings. A 2013 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) highlight several issues.

Despite considerable progress in setting up institutions and funds, there is a critical gap in preparedness level. The NDM Act, 2005 is yet to achieve desired effect. The National Executive Committee has not been convened since 2008. This has several limited the executive action that can be taken by the NDMA.

A National Plan for disaster management has not been formulated despite NDM Act, 2005 specifically mentioning it. This limits the degree of coordination that is necessary while facing crisis.

Not a single project taken up by NDMA is complete. The NDMA has vacancies; temporary consultants are being used instead of appointing permanent members. There is delay and mismanagement of State Disaster Relief Funds.

The Doppler weather radar and communication network is not fully functional. This has limited the impact that Geographical Information Systems (GIS) can have on managing disasters within the country.

National Disaster Communication Network and National Disaster Management Informatics System, created as per DM Act, 2005 is still in its planning stage. If implemented properly, this can significantly enhance the nation’s disaster response capabilities.

The National Disaster Relief Force battalions have insufficient infrastructure. Drought relief, earthquake preparedness, landslide control, nuclear and chemical disasters all have unsatisfactory preparedness.


It is essential for the establishment to take cognizance of these glaring shortcomings and improve the nation’s disaster management apparatus. The Odisha government’s response to cyclone Phailn has been an excellent one, and is a model example of how the State should respond. Yet, it is essential to not become complacent following this success. With the global ecosystem taking a turn for the worse, chances are that India will have to repeatedly face intense disasters. It is essential to be properly prepared for them.

Has completed his BE (Computer Science) from MIT College, Pune, and his currently pursuing a masters degree in Economics. He particularly enjoys social sciences, and has chosen to study Economics because it provides the “perfect blend of Science and Social Sciences”. Currently preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Exam, Hrishikesh hopes to serve the country by joining the bureaucracy – having cleared the Preliminary exams for the Civil Services in 2013, he will be appearing for the Mains exams in December. His passions include reading, writing, travelling, mountaineering and teaching. Currently affiliated with the prestigious Chanakya Mandal Pariwar organization in Pune, Hrishikesh teaches a wide range of subjects such as History, International Relations, Economics, Mathematics and Statistics.