The flood that devastated Kerala over the past week was by all scales and means unprecedented. Many compared it to the water surge of 1924, though there is little information or data on its actual impact. But with whatever little we know, the current flood-ravaged Kerala from the north to south, stretching the state and its resources to its limits. But, courtesy an agile and proactive administration, loss of lives were fewer than in 1924.
The media made sure that the stories of survival and rescue reached every household. Malayalis irrespective of religion, caste, creed and political affiliations came together. Socio-political, economic, and religious divides were cast away in those unending hours of terrible tragedy.
As rescue and relief operations kicked in, there was a chorus which suddenly found traction in the media. Some prominent individuals demanded that rescue and relief operations be 'handed over' to the Army. While the sincerity and urgency behind the idea cannot be questioned, the demand possibly stems from ignorance of how 'aid to civil authority' is handled by the Indian Army. Irrespective of the tragedy or its scale, the Army is deployed in 'aid to civil authority' only when it is requisitioned by the appropriate authority. Depending on the situation and its gravity as appreciated by the commanders in chain, the Army decides the scale of deployment. Army resources are then deployed in consultation with the requisitioning civil authority so as to maximise results. Armed with intimate knowledge of the local topography, demography and socio-political sensitivities of the area, the civil authorities are best equipped to effectively guide the Army to the best point of deployment.
The emotional clamour to 'hand over' command and control of relief and rescue operations to the Army notwithstanding, Army resources are best deployed in consultation with the local civil authority. The State government must be appreciated for the manner in which it requisitioned tri-services resources, scaled up operations in requisite time, and ensured an efficient rescue and relief operation.
Another contentious issue that cropped up during the rescue and relief operations was the Central government's hesitation in declaring the floods a 'national calamity.' Other than satisfying egos of many who clamoured for it, it essentially means nothing. It changes nothing on ground and does not bring about any qualitative or quantitative additive to the relief work on ground. The Central government has already made available all the wherewithal that Kerala sought. Deployment of Army, Navy, Air Force, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and paramilitary resources to tackle the floods in Kerala would by far outstrip any such deployment across the country. The range of expertise and material deployed in such short time frame in aid to civil authority is unparalleled in the history of India. Thus, irrespective of the nomenclature assigned, the Central government cannot be faulted for withholding succour to the state. In fact, the Government of India must be credited for the instantaneous mass mobilisation and deployment of its multi-dimensional resources in aid of Kerala.
Rebuilding the state
Within the current administrative framework, there is nothing special that the state would accrue if the disaster is declared a 'national calamity.' What should be expedited is the resources made available to the state for rebuilding itself and for rehabilitation. The commitment of the prime minister to deploy the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to rebuild flood-ravaged roads in Kerala and the immense outpouring of goodwill and support from people across the country, state governments and organisations is an indicator that Kerala it is assured of speedy reconstruction and rehabilitation. With unwavering application of these resources, Kerala could be up, running, and thriving very soon.
The manner in which Keralites braved the flood fury, the government machinery's response, and the way politicians dumped differences are worth emulation.
Future generations will look back at 2018 with pride and imbibe the resilience Malayalees exhibited in the face of a humongous natural disaster. The state administration headed by the chief minister deserves accolades for the exemplary manner in which the tragedy was handled and managed.
(Jacob Tharakan Chacko is a retired major-general with 36 years of experience at various managerial and directional posts. He is a recipient of the Sena Medal. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)