Maharashtra govt revamps disaster management authority

Mumbai: The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has decided to reconstitute the state disaster management authority, a crucial body under the disaster management act 2005 to decide its strategy on combating calamities.

Even as the state is fighting one of the crucial battles against the Covid 19 pandemic and using the disaster act to issue various diktats from lockdown to penal action, the authority, headed by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, met just once. The meeting was held to postpone college exams last year during the same period.

Now, the nine-member authority has been reconstituted with four non-official members replacing the old ones appointed by the previous BJP government. The new members are Prof. Mahesh Kamble, Rajendra Pawar, Sanjay Lakhe Patil and Prabhakar Deshmukh. During the BJP rule, the non-official members were Sudhir Thakare, Atul Deulgaonkar, Yashwant Thakar, Jackline Joseph. Prof Ravi Sinha from IIT has been the member for many years and he has found a place in the new body. State chief secretary is the ex-officio member secretary of the authority. Other members comprise Deputy CM Ajit Pawar and Relief & Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar.

The disaster management authority has all the powers to decide over the state response to various calamities. Even during the Covid 19 pandemic, the state government has been using the provisions legally defined under the disaster management act. Last year when the state government locked horns with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari over holding university exams, it used the provisions of the disaster management act.

Even though it is mandatory to constitute the body from time to time and decide state response in its meetings, rarely meetings are called. Senior environment journalist Atul Deulgaonkar who served as a member of the state authority for many years, said, “Last year the authority had a zoom meeting and it was called to postpone exams under the disaster management act.”

“The disaster management authority is a crucial body with wide-ranging powers to deal with any calamity. But no government ever has given serious thought to this. Unless the chief minister and chief secretary are convinced the authority will not get a priority,” Deulgaonkar said.

Meanwhile, experts including Deulgaonkar have been demanding autonomy to the authority considering the importance attached to it. But the state government is not keen on it. But, the state governments of Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have already given autonomy to their state disaster management authorities and the state body of Odisha is considered as an ideal model of the disaster management authority.

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