By- Pinak Mishra
Natural disasters have hit Odisha with alarming regularity over the last few decades, disrupting the social and economic life of people in the state. In the last decade alone, cyclonic storms have ravaged the Odisha coast almost every alternate year, resulting in significant damages to the lives and livelihoods of people. However, from the horrifying devastation that the 1999 Super Cyclone brought to Odisha, claiming thousands of lives, to the almost zero loss of lives during the recent cyclone YAAS, Odisha tells a remarkable story of leadership and institution building, along with community participation and resilience in disaster mitigation and management. But what brought about this remarkable transformation in the last twenty years, making Odisha’s disaster management policy the gold standard for other states to emulate? While Odisha’s disaster management success story is a multi-layered one, it essentially boils down to three things – an alert and vigilant leadership committed to robust institution building, making the community a part of the disaster preparedness and mitigation process.
Such a comprehensive transformation could not have been achieved without proactive and real time intervention from the very top. To this extent, the disaster management leadership shown by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik over the last two decades has been exemplary and phenomenal. His personal intervention, monitoring and supervision during and in the aftermath of the subsequent natural disasters has not only worked towards mitigating damage, but also helped keep rescue teams on the ground motivated. The speed and precision with which various agencies come together to respond in the aftermath of natural disasters and execute a coordinated relief, rehabilitation and restoration strategy, is a testament to the Chief Minister’s alert and responsive governance model. What’s important here is the momentum gained by the State, especially from the learnings of the 1999 Super Cyclone, to build robust institutions to meet the challenges of a coastline perpetually vulnerable to cyclonic disturbances. Two such prominent institutions are the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and the Odisha Fire Services, which has been transformed from a simple fire control agency into a well-trained, multipurpose disaster response force. State investments in these organizations over the last two decades have paid rich dividends to Odisha in disaster management, bringing the state international repute.
The State’s strategy to transform the existing arms of the state by equipping them to double up as disaster response agencies has also extended to Odisha Police as well. And consequently, the role and function of Odisha Police has also undergone remarkable changes over the years. It’s because of this that the Police, being the first responders, have acted as a formidable force in every natural disaster.
Odisha Police has risen to every occasion displaying exceptional responsiveness, compassion and alacrity in the management of disasters. From large-scale evacuation of vulnerable populations to safe shelters to road clearances, responding to emergency situations and rescue and restoration efforts in the aftermath of subsequent disasters have all been executed with immaculate precision and efficiency.
While questions are often raised on the effectiveness of policing in India, it’s worth asking what makes the rank and file of Odisha police to discharge their duties so efficiently every time the state is hit with a natural disaster. There are several reasons, the most obvious being that frequent natural disasters have ingrained an innate trait of disaster preparedness in the Police forces. Besides, seamless coordination among various agencies of the state during and after a disaster has been key to a successful response strategy. But most importantly, the leadership, both at the political and administrative level, has been the guiding force in disaster response of the Police.
Every time the marine frontiers of Odisha have been lashed by the forces of nature, Odisha police has proved its mettle in rising up to the challenge, carrying people to safety, and helping rebuild battered communities afterwards. The heartwarming images of policemen and women reaching out to every vulnerable person and responding to all possible emergencies during disasters have reinforced the people’s unbreakable trust and faith in Odisha Police.
IPS Pinak Mishra is presently the Superintendent of Police in Berhampur, Ganjam.