In Disaster-prone State, SDRF Caught Napping

SRINAGAR: A blue-yellow gate snaps open. Inside, two policemen are sitting on a stair, basking in sun. One of them cradles a rifle in his lap. There are two water tanks near the canteen of a building; three buses, on the other side.

One part of building has collapsed probably due to 2014 floods. Below the collapsed wall was a vehicle, which looks completely damaged. It is covered with the brick dust.

The policemen at the gate accompanied me and showed the way to the main building where I am supposed to meet the Incharge officer.

I stepped inside the J&K State Disaster Response Force building. The door creaks open while ushering me into a dark corridor. On the left side was CID Office. Its door was locked; full of dust. It seems that nobody has opened it for a long time.

The floor of the corridor is in a bad condition. The veneer of cement has worn off revealing a coarse concreted interior. At the first floor is the Estates section, the door of which is blanketed by an elaborate rag.

Inside room, four men surround a coal-heater, conversing with each other. The room is messy with lockers, tables and files cluttering all over. The milieu is suffocating.

The general branch office is divided by 3 tables into three cubicles for 3 persons to work. There is a rack full of files with dust-ridden documents all over its shelves. “This building itself is in danger,” says Ghulam Mohiuddin, the store keeper. “We have sent a proposal for it but didn’t get any response yet.”

J&K SDRF is considered as the first line of defense during the disasters like flood and earthquake. It was established under vide govt order no.159 (HG) Home of 2012 dated 21/02/2012 when the existing battalions of auxiliary police were converted into SDRF.

It has been a year since devastating floods wreaked parts of Valley catching the authorities unawares. My visit to the office comes against the backdrop of a string of earthquakes that have been shaking the region of late. For its part, media has spared no efforts to whip up an air of caution while running a series of stories warning the people of a “long overdue” tremor which, according to some experts, is likely to exceed the magnitude 8. An earthquake of this scale, experts have warned would flatten the entire valley, causing immeasurable devastation.

SDRF has jurisdiction throughout the state. Shockingly, during 2014 floods, the force had no boats to rescue the marooned people. Keeping such crisis in view, is the department ready to mete out any assistance should a major earthquake strike? The question has been gnawing many.

“We have not received any sort of alert regarding the predicted earthquake from authorities,” says Incharge of SDRF general branch. “As a result we have made no planning in this regard.”

Voicing his concern, a constable with the SDRF wishing anonymity says that in absence of any up-gradation in the machinery, no preparations have been made to tackle crises which a tremor measuring 8 would trigger.“Government has done nothing to deal with it,” he concedes. The department is still equipped with the equipments they had before floods, he alleged. “No addition has been made.”

The department has reportedly sent a proposal for procuring 700 equipments a year before. “It is still to be responded,” the Incharge says.

Such is the scale of apathy that SDRF has received just two boards instead of 200 that it had sought.

“The department has MRF skills, imagining cameras and other equipments,” says said Abdul Waheed Shah, Commander, SDRF. “But the facilities that we really need on a large scale are yet to come.”

Also, SDRF comprises of only 637 soldiers with 20-25 pickets posted in each district. It is obviously not possible for 25 men, say officials, to save a district at the time of disaster

Officials have justified the depleted strength with which the SDRF has been functioning citing reasons that the department was still in its “infancy stage”.

However, it has made several endeavors in the past involving lectures about how to deal when the disasters strike. “We impart the basic know-how about disasters,” an official tells me. “In absence of proper attention to us, at least we can do that.”

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