M A I N   N E W S

Govt to set up tsunami warning system
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 9
The all-party meeting convened by the government today agreed on a slew of measures for effectively tackling the challenge posed by calamities like tsunami, including the setting up of a national disaster management authority and installing an early warning system for taking precautionary measures.

A Bill would be brought in the Budget Session of Parliament, beginning next month, to give effect to the proposed authority, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said after an over three-hour meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here.

The meeting, attended by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Leader of the Opposition L K Advani and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, saw the Prime Minister giving a brief account on the death and devastation caused by the December 26 tsunami disaster in which a total of 10,012 persons were killed and 5,624 were missing.

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who addressed the press conference along with Mr Patil and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, said leaders of all parties “appreciated the prompt action” taken after the disaster and assured cooperation in the relief and rehabilitation exercise undertaken by the government.

The Home Minister said India would be “part and parcel” of all international efforts towards putting in place an early warning system and the government had already appointed a committee to suggest the best technology for such a system.

An international conference of scientists had been convened by the government here on January 21 to take expert views on the issue and also involve the central departments concerned, including Science and Technology, Ocean Development and Space, Mr Pawar said.

Besides, the meeting was informed that the government had accepted 64 of the 97 recommendations of the National Committee on Disaster Management headed by Mr Pawar, including the setting up of a Cabinet Committee on Disaster Management.

He said the 12th Finance Commission was going into the issue of making available funds to tackle such calamities.

On the acceptance of foreign aid, the Defence Minister said the Prime Minister had already made it clear that India did not need such assistance at this juncture.

He, however, sought to distinguish assistance from the World Bank and IMF, saying that these two were different entities and India was one of their founding members.

Mr Mukherjee said of the 5,624 persons missing, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands accounted for most of them as 5,531 persons from there were not traceable.

The meeting saw a 30-minute presentation by the Home Secretary and a detailed briefing by the Cabinet Secretary.

Replying to a question, the Home Minister said the children orphaned in the disaster would be the responsibility of the government and NGOs and individual adoptions would come only at the end. “We do have laws and procedures. We will take care of our children,” Mr Patil said.

The Home Minister said children and old people were the largest victims in the tragedy as they were at home and sucked in by the killer waves.

Mr Mukherjee said 20,800 personnel of the armed forces and the paramilitary forces were involved in the rescue and relief effort, “one of the biggest peacetime operations” undertaken by the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

A large number of ships, aircraft, helicopters and other equipment were being used for these operations, not only in India but also in neighbouring countries affected by the tsunami, he said. Asked whether it was being treated as a national calamity, the three ministers said in unison that it was one.

The Home Minister said there were several suggestions from leaders of various parties, including giving top priority to the rehabilitation of fishermen who had been hit hard by the calamity.

They also wanted steps to ensure ecological balance and providing counselling to women and children who have undergone trauma due to the tragedy.

Later, senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said the leaders felt that the setting up of a warning system would be much better than spending thousands of crore in relief and rehabilitation.

CPM leaders Nilotpal Basu and Basudev Acharia said all parties agreed that the tsunami disaster was a national calamity and the rescue, relief and reconstruction operations were well-managed.

Mr Acharia said 90 per cent of those affected were fishermen and all parties demanded loan waivers and special assistance for boats and nets.

TDP leader K. Yerrannaidu said he had sought the enhancement of the ex-gratia amount from the present Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh and a comprehensive insurance policy covering all fishermen from the east and west coast should be worked out.

Others who attended the meeting included BJP leader Jaswant Singh, Shiv Sena’s Ananta Geete, SAD leader S. S. Dhindsa, RSP leader Abani Roy and Indian Federal Democratic Party leader P. C. Thomas.

Two AIADMK ministers of Tamil Nadu represented the party at the meeting.


Pitroda flays disaster control
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, January 9
Sam Pitroda, architect of India’s telecom revolution, says technology should be harnessed to combat natural calamities like the tsunami, which claimed over 100,000 lives.

“India did its best in managing the tsunami with the available resources. But governments cannot manage disasters,” Mr Pitroda said.

Hitting out at the government’s disaster management cell, he said it was archaic and feudal. It should be shifted directly under the Prime Minister’s Office for effective functioning.


J&K, HP youth come forward as volunteers
Ramesh Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 9
Shamima from Srinagar and Anita Sharma from Bilaspur are among hundreds of youth living in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh who have signed up with the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, to join in the rehabilitation work in the tsunami-affected parts of the country.

“I am going to Andaman next week to help those affected by the disaster,” Shamima (23), who works with a mahila mandal, said over the telephone from Srinagar.

Anita (25) of Namhol village in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, is a postgraduate. Like Shamima, she works as a volunteer for the mahila mandal in her district.

Over the next few weeks, they will join volunteers from Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to help people of Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands affected by the disaster.

Shamima and Anita will offer counselling to traumatised women and children. Others like Kishan Lal of Bilaspur will help rebuild infrastructure.

Executive director of Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan Yogender Choudhary said the volunteers would be sent in batches for a fortnight. “We are also sending doctors and skilled personnel like masons, plumbers, carpenters besides youth who are universal donors of blood and can be of help,” he told The Tribune.

Each batch of volunteers will comprise at least five counsellors who can help women and children, especially orphans, overcome the trauma of losing their loved ones.

The services of Anganwadi workers have also been enlisted. The volunteers have given a written consent to be part of the rehabilitation effort. They will also help find and dispose of bodies and carcasses, collect and distribute relief material besides joining the local youth to assist the Public Works Department (PWD) in opening roads.

“Since jetties have been destroyed, they will also assist the Navy unload ration supplies,” Mr Choudhary added.

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