Mumbai: Tuesday’s downpour revealed that the BMC’s disaster management cell is just a team of telephone operators. They take calls from the public and relay the complaints to the department concerned.

No wonder the cell is unable to get the big picture and properly brief the top officials. The cell then ends up with ludicrous statements like the one made by joint municipal commissioner S. S. Shinde made on Wednesday: “We did not advise people to stay back in their offices for a couple of hours because that would have caused a scare.’’

Rather than assessing the situation, the disaster management cell operates on the basis of fixed guidelines. For instance, Shinde said an ‘alert’ is issued only if the “situation demands it”.

This means that only if the Met department has issued a warning to the BMC about wind speed higher than 50 kmph or a high tide along with torrential rains, do they alert citizens. This can be done via SMS, television advisory, press conference or through its public relations department. According to Shinde, Tuesday’s situation did not warrant any such warning since the rains subsided in an hour.

What the BMC’s rule-bound disaster management cell did not realise was that the hour-long spell had felled several trees, flooded several roads and disrupted rail and road traffic. Commuters said that Kurla and Parel stations almost faced a stampede situation. But civic officials neither receive nor seek such inputs.

Shinde reasoned: “If in such situations we tell people to stay indoors, everybody will leave their workplace to reach home as soon as possible. If we warn them against a stampede, people will clamour and cause a stampede. Damage to life and property is our biggest concern in such cases.”

The BMC could do well to keep in touch with journalists at such times but municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte and his deputy S V R Srinivas neither took phone calls from the FPJ nor replied to text messages on this issue.

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Free Press Journal