Disaster Management Act
Written By:– Shreem Thite
An introduction to the Disaster Management Act, 2005
The Disaster Management Act of 2005 (hereinafter to be referred to as the DM Act), was enacted as the primary law governing disaster management. In India, this act established a three-tier disaster management system at the national, state, and district levels. The NDMA, SDMA, NEC, NDRF, NIDM, and disaster-related funds were established as a result of the act. The Disaster Management Act of 2005 was passed in the aftermath of the Tsunami disaster on December 26, 2004. It was passed under Concurrent List Entry 23 of the Constitution’s Seventh Schedule, “Social Security and Social Insurance; Employment and Unemployment.” The premise for passing this law under the Concurrent List was that states can create their own laws to satisfy their micro-level needs if they so wish.
The disaster management system was divided into three levels: national, state, and District. At the national level, the NDMA was established as the apex authority, while at the state level, State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMA) were established. The Chief Ministers were in charge of these. District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA) was established at the district level. These were co-chaired by elected representatives of the local government and led by the District Collectors. All of these agencies were given the task of developing holistic and integrated disaster management strategies and ensuring that they were carried out when necessary.
The NDMA’s executive committee is known as the National Executive Committee (NEC). On behalf of the NDMA, it coordinates the responses. It is made up of 14 Secretaries of the Indian Government and the Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff. The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and the National Disaster Response Force have been established to help the NDMA (NDRF).
Application of the DM Act amid Covid-19 Surge
In March 2020, Covid-19 was the calamity that catapulted the DM Act to the forefront of all disputes, even those centred on the DM Act’s efficacy. It is the first pan-India disaster to be dealt with since the DM Act was passed in 2005. Covid-19 has resulted in unprecedented measures that have been dubbed “draconian” by some. The hurdles for India included an inadequate doctor-to-patient ratio, lack of ventilators, a lack of beds per million, and a lack of test kits, PPEs, and face masks, etc. In the second wave of Covid-19, the non-availability of oxygen beds and oxygen cylinders came out to be one of the most critical issues which have resulted in numerous amounts of deaths.
As per the DM Act, a disaster is defined as a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity, or grave event in any place, stemming from natural or man-made causes,” according to Section (2).
COVID-19 was declared a “notified disaster” by the Central Government on March 14, 2020, describing it as a “serious medical condition or pandemic crisis.”
By invoking the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Centre had taken over the right to allocate oxygen to states based on their demand during the time of the country’s first coronavirus shut down in March 2020. This means that even if a state has the infrastructure to create, store, and transport oxygen, it will have to rely on the Centre to meet its oxygen needs. Regardless of any legislation in force (including overriding powers), the Central government can issue any orders to any authority wherever in India to support or assist in disaster management. Importantly, any such directives made by the Central government and the NDMA must be complied with by Union Ministries, State Governments, and State Disaster Management Authorities.
The DM Act over 2nd wave of Coronavirus
While the epidemic continued to spread around the globe in the fall of 2020, India observed a steady drop in cases. A second wave was predicted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and our doctors. The administration, on the other hand, did not address the possibility of a surge. As a result, India was unprepared for the second wave and lacked a fill-proof vaccine policy.
After several states, including Delhi, complained about a lack of medical oxygen, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) invoked the Disaster Management Act on April 2021. At a time when India is confronting the second wave of Covid-19 infections, political leaders have even blamed neighbouring states for impeding oxygen supplies. The MHA stated in its order that there will be no restrictions on the transfer of medicinal oxygen across the states. The order continues, “Authorities shall be instructed to facilitate unfettered inter-state movement of oxygen-carrying vehicles.”
Offences and Penalties under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 vis-à-vis Covid-19
In the event of a disaster, Chapter 10 of the Act on ‘Offenses and Penalties,’ which reads from sections 51 to 58, outlines acts that would be considered criminal offences. Section 52, which imposes a sentence of almost two years in prison and a fine on anyone who makes false claims for relief benefits, and section 54, which imposes a sentence of one year in prison and a fine on anyone who spreads false information about the severity of a disaster, have become particularly important in the context of COVID 19. This is because, for the past year, news and updates regarding this ailment have saturated numerous social media sites, none of which have any system to verify news authenticity.
Violation of the Disaster Management Act, 2005
During the fight for hospital beds, on April 12 this year, 31 lakh worshippers took a holy dip in the Ganga at the start of Mahakumbh. In addition to the Mahakumbh’s massive crowds, four Indian states and one union territory were gearing up to vote in historic numbers. Rallies were being conducted in huge crowds while the country was suffering from a lack of oxygen, beds, ventilators, and death tolls rising each day.
The Election Commission of India [ECI] could have used its inherent authority to order the local police to file cases against violators of the Covid norms under both the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Sections 269 and 279 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) [“spreading an infection endangering human lives”). The Commission might have told political parties that they could only utilize the virtual platform for electioneering purposes. The Commission failed to enforce its own directives for reasons best known to it.
Failure appertaining The DM Act, 2005
The Covid emergency that has erupted in the country is the result of mismanagement on numerous levels. The current Covid problem cannot be dismissed lightly, as it has resulted in widespread human suffering and trauma. Ambulances to transport patients to hospitals are difficult to come by these days. There are patients who are waiting in huge lines for admission to hospitals and are losing their lives as a result. Due to declining oxygen supplies and poor ICU facilities in hospitals, many patients are physically gasping for air. Families of individuals who have lost close relatives are forced to queue for hours at overcrowded cremation grounds.
All this is nothing but a failure in the proper application of the Disaster Management Act, 2005
Laws pertaining to the Disaster Act must be more specific. It is necessary to identify and continuously monitor issues. Instead of frivolous features like advisory committees, functions of local entities, and so on, rules and regulations must be more clearly specified. Provisions in the Disaster Act should be appropriate for COVID-19 or any other health emergency.
About the Author
Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur, C.G.