Sucheta Dalal :Disaster Management
Sucheta Dalal

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Disaster Management  

Aug 1, 2005

Exactly a day after the serial bomb blasts of 1992, Mumbai was back on its feet. Those were the days when the late Ravi Gupta of Trikaya Advertising — with Gujarat Ambuja Cement as the silent financier — launched the famous ‘Saalam Bombay’ campaign, within hours after the blast, to dispel the gloom and celebrate the city’s never-say-die attitude. Thirteen years later, after the biggest ever deluge in history, things are vastly different. Four days after the disaster, the metropolis — now called Mumbai — is struggling to find that famous can-do spirit. It is far more crowded, uncertain and creaking under defunct or inadequate infrastructure and a callous administration. The Rs 52 crore Disaster Management Information System (DMIS) funded by the World Bank and the British Government after the Latur earthquake in 1993 remains a dead document. There was a separate Disaster Management Plan for Mumbai spelling out precise reporting structures and the exact pecking order of responsibility while linking all government departments that are expected to be activated during a disaster with control rooms of the police, municipality, fire brigade, civil defence and railways. It also discussed the use of public address systems and networking with the media. But nothing was available on that fateful Tuesday when the skies cracked open or on Wednesday when false rumours led to a stampede killing another 22 people. But even more dangerous was the immediate logjam created by stalled traffic. This will recur during every disaster unless politicians have the will to break the stranglehold of taxi and rickshaw unions and government transport monopolies to permit segmented mass transport infrastructure in the public and private sector. Otherwise, the traffic situation will be the biggest hindrance to rescue efforts by making it impossible for police, fire brigade or ambulance services to reach the people.


Emergency ICE


As the full horror of Mumbai’s deluge continued to unfold last week, attention is being drawn to the ICE campaign of the East Anglican Ambulance Service in UK. Bob Brotchie, a paramedic, started a campaign to encourage people to enter emergency contact numbers in their mobile phone memory under the heading ICE (In Case of Emergency). This will allow the police, paramedics or rescuers to scan a person’s mobile phone and quickly identify the designated next-of-kin in an emergency such as last week’s deluge. This will not only fetch help for a victim but could often save a life if the person contacted is a friend or relative who knows the medical history/ allergies of the victim. The campaign simply asks people to enter the word ICE in their mobile phone directory and list under it the number of the person to be contacted in an emergency. Vodafone, which supports the ICE campaign, has found through research that over 75 per cent of people carry no details of who should be telephoned in case of a serious accident. Finally, a word of caution. The ICE campaign triggered off a malicious counter-campaign by mischief-makers who sent out hoax warnings that ICE campaign messages attract premium charges. Some said that they were virus carriers. The ICE campaign is real. So, ignore such warnings if your receive them — they are a nasty hoax.


Watching Reliance


The vast gap in style and attitude of the Ambani brothers is more starkly evident every day after the split of the business empire. Anil Ambani and his companies continue to hog the headlines everyday with a spate of real, false or merely exaggerated reports about his acquisitions and investment plans. The younger Ambani is also consolidating his group companies and using them to cross-sell products. For instance, if you are surfing the Internet at a Reliance Webworld, you could be in for a sales pitch on Reliance’s mutual fund schemes. If Reliance Infocomm can gets its mess of billing system sorted out, it may collect electricity payments for Reliance Energy at Mumbai and Delhi at Webworlds. On the other hand, the Mukesh Ambani camp is busy focusing on its core business. It has announced a record first quarter profit and is re-organising the board of directors to repair the damage caused by the war between the brother. Not satisfied with bringing on board academic heavyweights such as Dipak Jain and Ashok Mishra, the company is in the process of forming a six member advisory council which will be packed with more academic luminaries such as Prof M.M. Sharma, who headed Mukesh Ambani’s alma mater UDCT (University Department of Chemcial Technology).


Rightful credit


Question: Who is the First Woman Chief Commissioner of Income Tax? If your answer is Urvarshi Saxena, you are wrong. The correct answer is the late Mira Balasubramaniam who became Chief Commissioner of Income Tax-II of Ahmedabad in September 1987, says R.K. Datta a doting 68-year-old brother of Mrs Balasubramaniam who passed away a decade ago. He is anguished at the media for trivialising her achievement by forgetting it, and wrongly crediting Saxena (who incidentally was the first Chief Commissioner-I with administrative charge). It also means that it was a long 17 years before Urvarshi Saxena could reach the glass ceiling first broken by Mira Balasubramaniam


-- Sucheta Dalal