|Disaster Management and India:
Responding Internally and Simultaneously in Neighboring Countries
Kailash Gupta, BE(Elec.), MBA(IIMA)1
India is one of the most disaster prone countries of the world. It has had some of the world’s most severe droughts, famines, cyclones, earthquakes, chemical disasters, mid-air head-on air collisions, rail accidents, and road accidents. India is also one of the most terrorist prone countries.
India was, until recently, reactive and only responded to disasters and provided relief from calamity. It was a relief driven disaster management system. India also has world’s oldest famine relief codes. In recent times, there has been a paradigm shift and India has become or is becoming more proactive with emphasis on disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness.
India traditionally accepted international help in responding to disasters. However, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, India refused to accept international response assistance from foreign governments. Not only that, India deployed its defense personnel, medical teams, disaster experts, ships, helicopters, and other type of human, material, and equipment resources to help Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Indonesia. It may be noted that India itself suffered from the tsunami and was internally responding at the same time. India is also lower income group country, while Indonesia is middle-income group country.
As the tsunami experience illustrates, disasters do not recognize or respect national geographic boundaries. In the increasingly globalized world, more disasters will be spread over many countries and will be regional in nature. India has set up an example of responding internally and simultaneously in neighboring countries for the other countries to follow.
In the academic year 2003-2004, India took a pioneering step of starting disaster management education as part of social sciences in class VIII. In the subsequent academic year 2004-2005 disaster management, was added to class IX. In the following academic years disaster management was progressively added to classes XI and XII. This was done by the Central Board of Secondary Education. Along with disaster management education in schools, India is also implementing community based disaster management program with the help of United Nations Development Program in all-hazard vulnerable districts.
Some of the catastrophic disasters in recent times have led to changes in disaster policy and creation of new organizations. Policy changes include the enactment of Disaster Management Act, 2005 and development of the national disaster management response framework. The National Disaster Management Authority was established to spearhead in creation of culture of disaster resilience. The National Institute of Disaster Management itself and along with Disaster Management Cells in the states is providing training opportunities in disaster management.
This chapter covers hazards, vulnerability, history of disasters in India, development of disaster policy, organization of disaster management, challenges and opportunities, and conclusions.
India and its Hazards
India is the largest democracy in the world with 1.2 billion population. It is the second most populous country in the world with about 6 billion people. That means on an average, every fifth person on the earth is an Indian. Seventy-two percent of the Indian population lives in rural India. Nearly 60% of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, and India now ranks second in the world in farm production.
India is integrated, yet highly diversified country. On an average, every about 250 kilometers away there is different culture in terms of food habits, clothing, language, rituals, and other symbolic interactions. India has fourteen constituently recognized languages, but the vernacular or local languages are around 600.
India lies in South Asia, surrounded on three sides by the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal. To the north there are the Himalayan mountain ranges. The geographical area of India is 3.4 million square kilometers, and the coastline is 7,500 kilometers long. Although India is one of the youngest democratic nations (having obtained independence in 1947) it is a country that has one of the oldest culture and history among the nations of the world.
India was economically the richest country in the world till Mughals invaded for looting. India knew mining and processing of diamonds, and all the great diamonds belonged to India. Mohd. bin Qasim robbed Sind of 630 million dirhams in the 11th century. Mahmud Ghazni raided India 17 times to loot temples and palaces, including the Somnath temple which had offerings of centuries accumulated. A tiny ruling group consisting of the Mughal Emperor and 8,000 or so nobles (of a total population of 100 million ) actually collected over half to one-third of the GNP as revenue after imposing their rule over India for over seven centuries (Raychaudhuri and Habib 2007). The per capita GDP in 2005 was only $ 736, and India stood at 128th among the countries in terms of the Human Development Index (UNDP 2007). Poverty is the main root cause of disasters in India.
Simplistically speaking, a hazard is an event which is a possible source of danger. Floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides have been recurrent hazardous phenomena in India. Seventy five percent of the annual rainfall is received during June to September monsoon making almost all the rivers carry heavy discharge during this period. The flood hazard is compounded by the problems of sediment deposition, drainage congestion and synchronization of river floods with sea tides in the coastal plains. The monsoon failure or excess in some part of India creates hazard for the agricultural communities.
In contrast, drought is a temporary reduction in water or moisture availability significantly below the normal or expected amount for a specific period. This condition occurs either due to inadequacy of rainfall, or lack or irrigation facilities, under-exploitation or deficient availability for meeting the normal crop requirements in the context of the agro-climatic conditions prevailing in any particular area. Rajasthan is the most drought prone state of India. Cyclones are other hazards in India that generally strike the East Coast. However, some of the Arabian Sea Cyclones strike the west coast of India, mainly the Gujarat and North Maharashtra coast. Out of the storms that develop in the Bay of Bengal, more than half approach or cross the east coast in October and November. The Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions, Kutch and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are particularly earthquake hazard prone (National Institute of Disaster Management 2009).
Hazards in India are spread throughout the country. In one part of the country there could be heat wave, while at the same time in another part there could be cold spell. In one part of the country there may be floods, while another part there may be drought. Complicating the regional nature of hazards, some parts of habituated India are not easily assessable by road or railways or even waterways.
Apart from natural hazards, India faces intended and unintended terrorist attacks and technological hazards, which have been increasing recently. Technological hazards include the well-known Bhopal chemical disaster. India is also considered to be one of the most terrorist prone countries in the world. Examples include terrorist attack on the Indian parliament and in the Mumbai in Taj Hotel and other places in November 2008. There are 174 terrorist, insurgent, and extremist groups in India; many of the unknown groups are operating across the country, according to the South Asia Terrorism portal.
Vulnerabilities in India
Vulnerability is the susceptibility of being harmed. Scholars have debated on the concepts of hazards and vulnerability. Two of the explanations for these concepts can be found in McEntire (2004 and 2005). A disaster occurs when hazard interacts with vulnerability. For example, if an earthquake (hazard) occurs, a structurally safe building will withstand the shock (resistant), but a hutment (vulnerable) may collapse; creating a disaster for the hutment dwellers.
Vulnerability could be due to the human related factors or natural features. The human related factors that increase vulnerability of India could be intended or unintended, and include apathy, poverty, corruption, illiteracy, land use pattern, technological misuse, and terrorism. Poor land use planning and inconsistent emergency management systems leads to vulnerability to floods, drought, cyclones, earthquake, heat and cold waves, and landslides.
As mentioned, India has a highly diversified range of natural features. Its unique geo-climatic conditions make the country among the most vulnerable to natural disasters in the world. Disasters occur with amazing frequency in India and while the society at large has adapted itself to these regular occurrences, the economic and social costs continue to mount year after year. It is highly vulnerable to floods, drought, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes, etc. Almost all parts of India experience one or more of these events (Gupta 2000).
Many regions in India are highly vulnerable to natural and other disasters on account of geological conditions. About 60% of the total area of the country is vulnerable to seismic damage of buildings in varying degrees. The most vulnerable areas, according to the present seismic zone map of India, are located in the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions. Kutch and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are particularly earthquake hazard prone. Over 8% Indian area of 40 million hectares is prone to floods, and the average area affected by floods annually is about 8 million hectares. Of the nearly 7,500 kilometers long coastline, approximately 5,700 kilometers is prone to cyclones, and 68% area is susceptible to drought. Disasters are no longer limited to natural catastrophes. Man-made emergencies also cause disasters in terms of fatalities and economic losses.
With urbanization and concentration of population in metropolitan cities, more and more people are becoming vulnerable to locational disasters (Planning Commission 2008, Vol. 1, 207). For instance, a quarter of Indian population lives within 50 km of the coastal line. The population within 1 km of the coast is 1.6 million, and 3.4 million within 2 km of the coast. These people are vulnerable to river flooding, and coastal surges following cyclone or tsunami.
By and large in the lower and middle management in the public sector, there is wide spread apathy, due to which professionalism, effectiveness, efficiency, and equity in public service is lacking. The public perception of politicians and bureaucrat is not good. The government employees, due to lack of rewards for better performance on the one hand, and near impossibility of firing them become apathetic and are not motivated for better performance. Additionally, the affirmative action of reservations for recruitment and promotion (with comparatively lax merit standards) for the scheduled casts and scheduled tribes (the historically disadvantaged and legally defined cast groups) also leads to apathy, although it benefits scheduled casts and scheduled tribes.
The percentage of the population below the official poverty line was 28% in 2004-2005. The absolute number of poor people was 302 million in 2004-2005. Forty six percent of the children in the age group zero to three years suffered from malnutrition in 2005-2006. India has been ranked a lowly 74, among countries of the world on the worldwide Corruption Perceptions Index, prepared by independent international agency Transparency International. Corruption is wide spread and percolates most of the sections of the society. Corruption is not only wide spread, but is also blatant. The literacy rate has steadily gone up to 64.8% in 2001, the number of illiterate persons still exceeds 304 million, making India the country with the highest number of illiterate persons in the world (Planning Commission 2008: Vol. 1). Some parts of India still do not have even electricity and/or telephone connectivity. All of these factors – from illiteracy and poverty to infrastructure inadequacy and apathy, indicate that India is highly vulnerable to disasters.
The History of Disasters in India
Kapur et al. (2005, 2) say India should hang her head in shame. With the Bengal famine, Orissa Super Cyclone, Latur earthquake, Bhopal chemical disaster, Andhra cyclone, Gujarat earthquake, recurring floods, Mumbai 2008 bomb blasts and many other disasters there is no foyer in the world with space large enough to exhibit the collective pain on the face of India. India has ranked at the top or near top in almost all type of disasters with number of deaths and people affected. India does not appear in the world tally of damages in financial terms due to disasters because of poverty and lack of infrastructure. Indian history is dappled with so many disasters that it is difficult to cover in a section of the chapter in a book. Therefore, only a sample of disasters is given in this chapter. Some type of disasters and some of the disasters need to be excluded due to space limitations.
The data in this chapter are sourced from Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels EM-DRT International Disaster Database (2009). EM-DAT contains essential core data on the occurrence and effects of over 16,000 mass disasters in the world from 1900 to present. Among the other source of data are Indian Metrological Department (2009) and Wikipedia.
Historically India has suffered from droughts and famine. The world’s top 2nd to 5th droughts, according to number of people killed, occurred in India. And, the world’s top 1st to 5th, and 8th drought, according to number of people affected, also occurred in India.
The main droughts were:
Drought of 1900, killing 1.25 million people.
Drought of 1942, killing 1.5 million people.
Drought of 1943, in Easter part of Bengal (now part of Bangladesh) killing 1.9 million people.
Drought of 1965, killing 1.5 million and affecting 100 million people.
Drought of 1972, affecting 200 million people.
Drought of June 1982, affecting 100 million people.
Drought of May 1987, affecting 300 million people.
Drought of April 2000, affecting 50 million people.
Drought of July 2002, affecting 310 million people.
The main famines were:
In the year 650, famine throughout India.
1022, and 1033, great famines, entire provinces were depopulated.
1344-1345, great famine.
1396-1407, the Durga Devi famine.
1630-1631, there was a famine in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
1630-1632, Deccan famine in India killed 2 million (Note: There was a corresponding famine in northwestern China, eventually causing the Ming dynasty to collapse in 1644).
1661, famine, when not a drop of rain fell for two years.
1702-1704, 2 million died of famine in Deccan.
Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 covered Bihar, Northern and Central Bengal and estimated to have resulted in the death of about 10 million people, which was one-third of the population.
The Chalisa famine of 1783-1784 was severe and covered present-day Uttar Pradesh, Delhi region, Rajputana (present day Rajasthan), eastern Punjab region and Kashmir areas. It is estimated that 11 million people died and large areas were depopulated.
1788-1792, another 11 million people may have died in the Doji bara famine or Skull famine in Hyderabad State, Southern Maratha country, Gujarat and Marwar.
1800-1825, 1 million Indians died of famine.
The Agra famine was in 1837-1838, killing 800,000 people.
1850-1875, 2.5 million died in Orissa famine, mostly in 1866.
The Rajputana famine of 1868-1870 was blamed for death of 1.5 million people.
Bihar famine of 1873-1874 was responded by generous relief effort by import of rice from Burma (now Myanmar) avoiding deaths.
The Great Famine of 1876-1878, also known as South India Famine, spread from Southern India to Central and Northern parts of India. It covered an area of 670,000 square kilometers and affected 58.5 million people. In the aftermath of the famine about 5.5 million people died of starvation.
Indian famine of 1896-1897 covered almost whole of India and resulted in the death of about 8 million people.
The Indian famine of 1896-1897 was followed in quick succession by the Indian famine of 1899-1900 estimated to have caused death of 1.25 million to 10 million people.
India experienced the second Bengal famine of 1943 (first was 1769-70). Scanlon (2005, 15) says, “The British colonial government imposed wartime censorship on the Bengal famine of 1943 in which over 2,000,000 died, to avoid pressure to divert resources from the war effort.” Some estimates of death put the figure of over 3 million people died.
In 1965, there was nationwide, except in south, famine killing 1.5 million people.
In 1966, there was a 'near miss' in Bihar. The USA allocated 900,000 tons of grain to fight the famine.
A further 'near miss' food crisis occurred due to drought in Maharashtra in 1970-1973.
Some of the major earthquakes in India were:
There was a earthquake in 1618 in Mumbai in which 2,000 people lost lives.
The loss of lives is estimated to be 300,000 in the Bengal earthquake of 1737 (that time Bangladesh was part of Bengal).
The January 16, 1819 Kutch earthquake was of 8.0 on the Richer scale (XI intensity on Modified Mercalli scale) razed to the ground chief towns of Tera, Kathara and Mothala.
An area of 250,000 square miles was affected by January 10, 1869 earthquake of 7.5 Richer scale in Assam.
In the neighboring Shillong there was wide spread destruction when 8.7 Richer scale and XII Modified Mercalli scale earthquake struck on June 12, 1897.
Kanga, in Himachal Pradesh had an 8.0 on Richer scale earthquake on April 4, 1905, killing 20,000 people.
In Bihar, India (near the Nepal border) there was 8.3 Richer scale and XI Modified Mercalli intensity earthquake in 1934 in which 6,000 people were killed.
In the following year, at Quetta (now part of Pakistan), there was an earthquake of 7.5 and IX Modified Mercalli intensity, killing 25,000 people.
In the year 1941, in the Andaman Islands there was 8.1 on the Richer scale (X on Modified Mercalli scale) earthquake causing very heavy damage. It is contemplated that survivors passed on the earthquake survival knowledge by oral tradition, which saved many local inhabitants in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.
Assam faced yet another huge earthquake of 8.6 Richer / XII Modified Mercalli Scale in 1950 (earlier earthquake in Assam were in 1869, neighboring Shillong in 1897, and 1918) killing 1,500 people.
On August 21, 1988, Assam, once again, had an earthquake. This time it was 7.2 on Richer scale (IX Modified Mercalli scale intensity) killing people. Twenty million people were affected from this earthquake, which is the 2nd largest number of people affected by any earthquake.
Anjur in Gujarat had a 7.0 Richer or XII Modified Mercalli intensity earthquake in 1956 killing hundreds of people. Anjur is very near to the epicenter of 2001 Gujarat earthquake (see below).
The Latur, Marthawada region of the Maharashtra state, had a 6.4 on the Richter Scale (or VIII Modified Mercalli intensity) earthquake struck http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiaat 03:55 AM on September 30, 1993 affecting primarily Latur and Osmanabad districts of Maharashtra. Approximately 7,928 people died and another 30,000 were injured. A reconstruction project was launched with the help of the World Bank and the victims were given structurally safe constructed houses.
The 2001 Gujarat earthquake struck India at about 08:14 AM when India was celebrating its republic day on January 26, 2001. It was 7.6 to 8.1 Richer scale earthquake, which was felt widely in India and Pakistan. In the aftermath of the earthquake, about 25,000 people died in different parts of Gujarat, including Bhuj, Bachao, Anjur, Ahmedabad, and Surat. There were 6.3 million people affected, which is the third largest number of people affected by any earthquake in the world. Immediately after the earthquake there was a total failure of command and control system, but afterwards many innovative changes and institutional mechanisms were initiated. One of the important innovation was the training of people and their involvement with labor along with professional mason in rebuilding their own houses.
The December 26, 2004 earthquake of magnitude 9.3 on the Richter scale off the coast of Sumatra in the Indonesian archipelago generated tsunami that affected nearly 2,260 kilometers of the mainland coastline of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry, as well as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with tidal waves up to 10 meters high penetrating up to 3 kilometers inland. This tsunami took at least 10,749 lives, and resulted in 5,640 persons missing. It affected more than 2.79 million people across 1,089 villages. It is estimated that 11,827 hectares of crops are damaged, and that about 300,000 fisher folk have lost their livelihoods (Gupta Forthcoming).
On October 8, 2005 there was an earthquake of 7.6 richer scale intensity near the Muzaffarabad city of Pakistan killing 79,000 people in Pakistan; 1,309 in Kashmir of India; and 4 in Afghanistan. The severe cold weather conditions increased the sufferings of the evacuees sheltered in tents.
Floods recur every year during the monsoon season in India. On an average every year, 1,588 lives are lost, 7.5 million hectares of land is affected, and the damage caused to crops, houses and public utilities is 18 billion Indian Rupees (Rs.) due to the floods. Between 1953 to 2005, a total of 84,207 lives were lost due to the floods in India, with maximum of 11,316 in 1977, and a minimum of 37 in 1953. The only other year that had less than 100 deaths was 1965.
The data regarding each year’s flood damage, with totals, averages, and maximum losses from 1953 to 2005 in terms of human lives lost, cattle lost, population affected, monetary value of damage to public utilities, and total monetary damage loss, area affected, crops damaged, and houses damaged could be seen in National Disaster Management Guidelines: Management of Floods (National Disaster Management Authority 2008, 89-90).
On average, 32 million people are affected due to flooding. The maximum people affected were in 70 million in 1978. The total damage due to the floods during the 1953 to 2005 period of half a century was Rs 977 billion, a staggering figure for a poor country. The maximum damage was Rs 88 billion in 2000, and the average damage during 1953 to 2005 was Rs 18 billion. Heavy flood damages have occurred during the monsoon years of 1955, 1971, 1973, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2008.
There were wide spread floods in Gujarat in the beginning of July 2005, taking away lives and disrupting many lives. This was followed by the eighth heaviest ever recorded 24-hour rainfall figure of 994 mm (39.1 inches) which lashed the Mumbai metropolis on July 26, 2005, and intermittently continued for the next day. That day 644 mm (25.4 inches) rain was received within the 12 hour period between 8 AM and 8 PM. Apart from Mumbai, many parts of Maharashtra state were also flooded. Many people in the cars on the roads of Mumbai could not open their car doors to escape and died. Due to disruption of the transport system people could not reach their homes in the night. At least 1,000 people are feared to have passed away.
In 2008 there were floods in many parts of India. There was diversion of water by Nepal near the India-Nepal border which lead to the flooding of the Koshi (is a Hindi word that literally meaning angry) river in Bihar. The severe floods made it difficult to reach the marooned people due to logistic difficulties. Many people remain trapped in flood waters for days. Approximately 1,500 people died due to Koshi river flooding.
India also has history of suffering from cyclones.
The 1935, tropical cyclone killed 30,000 people.
In 1942, tropical storm in Orissa and West Bengal killed 40,000 people.
In 1943, Rajputana tropical storm, 5,000 people were killed.
In eastern coast of Orissa, 1971 tropical storm killed 9,658.
In 1977 cyclone, in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala 14,204 people were killed.
The biggest cyclone disaster is the Orissa super cyclone. It hit the Orissa coast of India on October 29, 1999 accompanied with 155 mph (250 km/h) cyclone winds and water surge from the sea. It caused the deaths of over 10,000 people, and heavy to extreme damage in its path of destruction. Following the cyclone, with the help of the World Bank, Orissa State Disaster Management Authority was formed.
The World’s 2nd and 4th to 8th deadliest epidemics also occurred in India. These included:
Bubonic bacterial plague infectious diseases in 1907, killing 1.3 million people.
Viral infectious diseases in parts of India (which is now Bangladesh) in 1918 killing 393,000 people.
Bubonic bacterial plague infectious diseases in 1920, killing 2 million people.
Cholera bacterial infectious diseases in 1920 killing, 500,000 people.
Bubonic bacterial plague infectious diseases in 1924, killing 300,000 people.
Viral infectious diseases in 1926, killing 423,000 people.
There have been many terrorist attacks in India. The major terrorist attacks are:
March 12, 1993 - A series of bomb blasts, alleged to be planted by Muslim underworld figures, rock Mumbai killing some 260 people and injuring 713.
February 14, 1998 - 46 persons were killed and more than 200 injured when 13 blasts ripped through Coimbatore.
December 24-31, 1999 – Pakistani militants hijack an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi with 189 people aboard, kill one passenger and force the release of three jailed Muslim militants in exchange.
October 1, 2001 - At least 21 people were killed in a suicide bomb explosion and gunfire at the assembly in Kashmir in an attack.
December 13, 2001 - Heavily armed Islamic militant group opened fire in Parliament complex, killing several people in an unprecedented attack on the seat of power in the world's biggest democracy.
January 22, 2002 - Four people were killed in an attack on the American Center, Kolkata allegedly by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants.
May 14, 2002 - More than 30 army men were killed in a terrorist attack on an Army camp near Jammu.
September 24, 2002 - 35 people were killed when 2 terrorists attacked the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
December 6, 2002 - Twenty-five people were injured in a bomb blast by members of the Students Islamic Movement of India at McDonalds fast food restaurant at Mumbai Central railway station. The bomb was planted in the air conditioner duct. It was suspected to be a crude bomb.
January 27, 2003 - At least 30 people were injured when a bomb planted on a bicycle went off throwing splinters of sharp nails outside Vile Parle railway station in Mumbai.
March 13, 2003 - A powerful bomb blast shattered a bogie of a local train at Mulund railway station in Mumbai during peak hours killing 11 people and injuring more than 65.
August 23, 2003 - Two bombings at the Gateway of India and the Mumba Devi temple in Mumbai killed 52, injured 167.
October 29, 2005 - 67 people were killed and 224 injured in serial bombings in major Delhi markets on Diwali (biggest festival, like Christmas) eve. A Pakistani group, Islamic Inquilab Mahaz, claimed responsibility for the attack. The group is linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba.
March 7, 2006 - At least 20 persons were killed and over 101 injured when two blasts rocked Varanasi. The first blast took place at the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple, the second at the Varanasi railway station.
July 11, 2006 - Seven explosions ripped through crowded commuter trains and stations in Mumbai, killing at least 200 people and leaving 700 more bloodied and injured.
The popular tourist destination and the pink city of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan state faced seven bomb (left in bags hanging on the bicycles) blasts on the evening of May 13, 2008. These explosions took place within a span of 12 minutes during the peak evening 7 PM time at various locations in the down town busy religious and shopping places. An eighth bomb was found and was defused. There were about 65 dead with 150 people injured.
The Ahmedabd city, the commercial hub of Gujarat state was bombed by a series of 21 bomb blasts that hit on July 26, 2008, within a span of 70 minutes, killing 56 people and injuring over 200 people. The blasts occurred just a day after the blasts in Bangalore.
The Mumbai city was attacked by more than ten coordinated shooting and bombing attacks in different parts of the financial capital and largest city. The attacks began on November 26, 2008 and lasted till November 29, 2008, killing at least 173 people and wounding at least 308. Eight of the attacks occurred in the prominent places of South Mumbai, including the Oberoi Trident Hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotels, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Terminus. Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only attacker who was captured alive, disclosed that the attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant organization, considered a terrorist organization by India, the United States, and the United Kingdom, among others. In the wake of the failure of the security system the Home Minister resigned.
Recently there have been many bomb explosions in Assam and other parts of North-Eastern Indian cities.
There have been many technological disasters in India. In 1979 the Koyna dam at Morvi in Gujarat collapsed killing 1,335 people. Many gas leakages from the chemical plants have killed workers as well. Some of the more well-known blasts are discussed below.
On December 4 and 6, 1985 a major leakage of oleum gas took place from Shriram Food and Fertilizers Industry, in the heart of the capital city of Delhi which resulted in the death of several persons. Following this, The Supreme Court of India established the principle of ‘strict and absolute liability’, making owners of hazardous plants strictly and absolutely liable for damages originating from their activities regardless of their fault.
The Bhopal chemical catastrophe is the world’s biggest industrial disaster to date. On the night of December 3, 1984 in the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal, 40 tones of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked without any warning. The poisonous gas leakage killed 3,828 people immediately, injuring hundreds of thousands, incapacitating most of them for life. In addition, thousands of cattle, nearly poisoning water, polluting surrounding air for miles affected the breathing capacity of the people, and other long lasting disastrous effects (Gupta Forthcoming). According to Amnesty International (2004, 1) 22,000 people have died of their injuries.
Union Carbide plant in Bhopal was the subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation incorporated in USA. The Government of India and the Union Carbide reached an out of court settlement for $490 million. Compensation claims of 1,029,517 people were registered, out of which 574,304 claims were awarded (Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department 2009). However, only a small portion of the compensation has been distributed to the victims due to legal and administrative procedures.
Mr. Warren Anderson, then CEO of Union Carbide, was declared absconder by the Bhopal Court since he did not appear in the court after signing a bail and promised to appear when summoned following his release after arrest. The Indian Government, the US Government, and INTERPOL were not able to find out his whereabouts for nineteen years. Journalists have found him living in Bridgehampton, New York and Florida. Nielsen (2006), a journalist, writes about actually having a face to face encounter with Warren Anderson, 84, at the Vero Beach, Florida home, but Anderson refused to give him an interview.
There have been many transportation accidents in India. The deadliest head-on mid-air collision of aircrafts in the world, the worst air disaster in India, and the fourth deadliest air disaster in the world, occurred over Charkhi Dadri, near Delhi on November 12, 1996, killing 349 people. The aircrafts involved were a Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747 passenger aircraft carrying 312 passengers and crew and an Ilyushin II-76TD belonging to Kazakhstan Airlines, carrying 37 passengers and crew. The Saudi 747 had just taken off from New Delhi airport while the Il-76 was descending. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) allowed the Saudi Jumbo to climb to 14,000 feet, and simultaneously, the IL-76 was allowed to descend to 15,000 feet. One of them, or both, did not stick to the prescribed height, and did not maintain the required vertical separation. The radar controller cautioned the Kazakh pilot that the Saudi Jumbo was approaching head on, but did not give a direct order on evasive action. Another possible cause of the accident was the misunderstanding due to different languages problem. Both the planes collided at a speed of 500 km per hour and instantly caught fire. There were no survivors (Gupta, Dangayach, and Bhardawaj 2007).
Following the head-on mid-air collision, the Civil Aviation Authority in India made it mandatory for all aircrafts flying in and out of India to be equipped with an Airborne Collision Avoidance System. This was the first time in the world that ACAS was made mandatory.
On August 16, 1991 Indian Airlines flight IC-257 operating from Kolkatta to Imphal with Boeing 737 aircraft crashed in the jungles near Imphal killing all the 69 passengers and the crew. This author was waiting at the Imphal airport for going back to Kolkatta in the same plane. The Indian Airlines announced a flight delay, but accurate information was either not coming or not provided to the public. It was only after many hours of waiting that public information of the plane crash was given. The release of factual and timely information of the accident would have created good public relations.
The Indian Railways is the world's largest railway system under a single management; with about 63,000-km route network that operates over 11,000 trains every day. There have been many railway accidents which could be considered as disasters, some of them are:
September 21, 1993, Seventy-one killed as Kota-Bina passenger train collides with a goods train near Chhabra in Rajasthan.
August 20, 1995, Three hundred and two killed as Delhi-bound Purushottam Express rams into the stationary Kalindi Express near Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh.
September 14, 1997, Eight-one killed as five bogies of the Ahmedabad-Howrah Express plunge into a river in Bilaspur district of Madhya Pradesh.
November 26, 1998, Over 200 people die as Jammu Tawi-Sealdah Express rams into three derailed bogies of Amritsar-bound Frontier Golden Temple Mail near Ludhiana.
August 2, 1999, Two hundred and eighty-six killed and 359 injured in a collision involving Awadh-Assam Express and Brahmaputra Mail at Gaisal in North Frontier Railway's Katihar division.
September 10, 2002, One hundred and twenty are killed when the Kolkata-New Delhi Rajdhani Express derails over a bridge in Bihar.
May 15, 2003, A burst stove caused a devastating fire that swept through a speeding passenger train in Punjab, killing 40 people and injuring more than 50.
June 22, 2003, In the first major accident on the Konkan Railway, 53 people, including three children, were killed and 25 injured when the engine and three coaches of the Karwar-Mumbai Central Holiday Special train derailed after crossing Vaibhavwadi station in Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra.
July 11, 2006, A series of bomb attacks strikes commuter trains in Mumbai, India, killing at least 200
February 13, 2009, Twelve carriages of the Coromandel Express derails soon after the train left Jajpur Road station near the city of Jajpur in the state of Orissa. Ironically, the accident occurred on the day of Railway Budget presentation when the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav boasted about increased safety measures at Indian Railways.
Like other disasters, India also has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of road accident deaths in the world. According to the Secretary of Road Transport, Government of India, nearly 105,000 people die in road accidents every year in India, and it is the highest in the world (Brahm Dutt 2007). This is despite the fact that India has very low number of vehicles for a given population compared to many of the countries. There are many reasons. Among them are the non-enforcement of laws, lack of safety conscience, poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles, and overcrowding. In addition, emergency medical facilities for the road accidents, particularly outside the cities were lacking.
As can be seen, India has had more than its share of disasters. In the decade from1990-2000, an average of about 4,344 people lost their lives and about 30 million people were affected by disasters every year. The major natural disaster in 2008 in India was floods. There were 1,808 deaths in 2008 in India due to natural disasters, the third largest number of death in any country (after China and Myanmar). The number of people affected due to natural disasters in 2008 were 14 million, second highest after China. “The loss in terms of private, community and public assets has been astronomical” (National Disaster Management Division 2004, 3).