Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Disastrous disaster management

The whole of last week I was busy coordinating with the different NGOs supporting relief work for the `Himalayan Tsunami'. As the un-official death toll mounted to thousands and still counting, evacuating thousands of stranded pilgrims across vast stretches of mountainous terrain remains the top administrative concern as much as providing basic amenities like food, water, medical help and shelter.
As bodies floated down rivers and survivors brought home tales of horror, the fate of thousands still hang in balance while the whereabouts of many remain unknown to their dear ones. The state government's intention fell far short of its ability to conduct relief work and all hopes lie on the Army that is fighting yet another enemy – the inclement weather – to save thousands of life.
The civil society and welfare organizations and NGOs have come forward to support the government effort, but what is obvious was the slow reaction of the private corporate houses to come forward with funds and resources. Could it be possible that private companies have extended funds and support without public fanfare? My sources tell me it isn't so.
The number of visitors to Kedarnath shrine increased from one lakh in 1998 to nearly six lakh last year. A spate of mindless hydro projects and rampant deforestation and violation of ecological norms have exacerbated the calamity making it a man-made disaster, according to many environment experts.
I was horrified to learn the disaster management of the crisis has been a disaster in itself. There has been utter lack of co-ordination and planning or a cohesive strategy among the civic bodies is providing relief. Also, another fact that has come to the fore is the fact that our large private sector companies have small hearts when it comes to giving back to the society.
The Maharatnas and Navratnas were more forthcoming is contributing funds and resources towards relief work. As of now, Kolkata-based Coal India Limited has made the largest singular contribution of Rs 25 crores towards relief. In contrast, the private sector companies seems to be reacting in slow motion.
My text (SMS) appeal to many individuals and top industrialists to support the cause in whatever way possible drew response from small and medium class business men and traders but hardly any from Grade A industrialists or corporates. There is the old reasoning that they prefer to do it (donate) silently seems more like an excuse.
I think it is time private corporations should come to the forefront and declare what they are contributing in support of this national disaster. Civil society is keen to know who does what for the cause. After all, some of these private companies have been the biggest beneficiaries of projects undertaken in the Himalayas.
I think the time has come for the Government to introduce a national disaster tax separately on the so called billionaire club. India should levy a special tax on top private sector firms for creating a corpus to be used during national-level disasters and calamities like this one.
There is much to learn from US billionaires and individuals like Warren Buffet, Larry Elison, Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, Howard Hughes and others like Li Ka-shing of Hong Kong, who have made philanthropy their long term goals contributing generously and effectively.
A Hindustan Times report on June 27 reported Bill Gates saying “I am sure that philanthropy in India will continue to grow... as people are interested in philanthropy..” How I wish his words come true.
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