Understaffed SDRF has rescue rangers who can’t swim
Despite the stark reminder thrown up by the recent eruption in the river Jhelum, the government’s rescue preparedness is alarmingly slack. According to the Comptroller Auditor General’s report, the state’s crucial rescue agency State Disaster Response Force is too understaffed to respond to the challenges of rescue and evacuation operations during floods.
On the lines of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the state government had in 2012 established the SDRF out of the existing two battalions of the Auxiliary Police, with one stationed in Kashmir and the other one in Jammu. According to the CAG report, against the sanctioned strength of 1588 personnel, the actual strength of the Force is 1142, of which only 358 personnel (31 percent) were actually deployed in its units.
“SDRF is understaffed, which definitely means its response at the time of eventualities will be not up to the mark. Although the government is claiming to have kept SDRF battalions on standby mode to meet flood threat, lack of manpower hampers its efficiency,” said a senior official.
Earlier during the Assembly session, former minister Basharat Bukhari, while mocking at the SDRF’s lack of preparedness had remarked that only five of the 50 SDRF men, deployed to save lives, could swim during a mock drill. "How could they respond to a disaster like floods," Bukhari had quipped.
J&K state is prone to various natural and manmade disasters with the Kashmir Valley falling the most severe seismic zone-V. The frequency of earthquakes has also increased in recent past causing concern .
Commandant of the SDRF’s Kashmir Battalion, Bashir Ahmad admitted that SDRF was understaffed. “However, we are recruiting 400 constables to reduce the manpower deficit. In Jammu the recruitment process has been completed. But in Kashmir we are conducting interviews till 23 July, by the beginning of next month we will complete the recruitment process.”
The CAG in its report has remarked that the purpose of creation of the Force had been defeated.
“Not only was the SDRF significantly short of its sanctioned strength by 28 percent, the bulk of the available manpower was neither fully trained nor deployed for disaster relief and rehabilitation thereby defeating the objective of creation of the Force,” the report reads.
Chief Secretary, B V R Subrahmanyam Monday chaired a meeting of the State Executive Committee (SEC) of the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF). In a significant decision, the Committee approved enhancement of funds from Rs 50 Lakh to Rs 5 Crore, to be kept at the disposal of Deputy Commissioners for meeting out annual expenses, on account of notified natural calamities, as per SDRF guidelines. The Committee also discussed and approved notification of a few state specific disasters not included in the list of disasters. The norms for these would be identical to the existing SDRF norms.