Now that Latur is in news, let us begin with it.
Within hours of the deadly 1993 earthquake striking the region, Sharad Pawar flew over the worst-affected parts to get a quick idea of the devastation, and camped in Solapur to direct the relief operations. His camp was located some 120-odd kms away from the epicentre, a two-hour journey by road. He didn’t want to get underfoot of the relief operations which had to be mounted on an unprecedented scale, and as a leader, he knew how to marshal resources.
Similar resource planning was shown by Narendra Modi after the Bhuj earthquake in 2001, management of both the earthquakes got positive cognizance.
When Eknath Khadse visits Latur in a helicopter, normally this would have been taken as a routine visit, and a sluggish machinery responds to a crisis in its own way. But when 10,000 litres of water is sprayed on the helipad landing to keep the dust down, it calls for another Arab Spring moment.
In Latur, those driven by curiosity rushed to examine devastated areas and the samaritans carried unusable items like torn clothes with them. No actual estimation of the real needs was possible then, but the curious rush to gawk. If it had not water scarcity, people would have rushed to Latur too. Even packaged drinking water would have been hard to come by for them.
This VIP disaster tourism has become a routine now. Even the media tends to ask, where was Modi? Where was that minister during the crisis? Why aren’t they on the ‘ground zero’? When military jargon is used, the significance of the situation should dawn on them. But does it? ‘When this was happening, they were doing that’ kind of discussion gains ground.
After the Bombay High Court pulled up BCCI and IPL, Maharashtra biggies should have learnt their lessons. This time, Modi made a serious mistake. Within hours of the firecrackers disaster in Kollam, he flew in, and it was administratively not welcomed. Kerala's director-general of police, TP Senkumar minced no words in mentioning that when his men were on the verge of collapse, he had to look after the security of the prime minister. And how he had to change his priorities to suit the security needs of the prime minister.
Senkumar also said that Rahul Gandhi’s and Modi’s visit to the spot should have been delayed by a day. What positive difference did Modi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s trip there made is hard to fathom. Even the state’s health services director, R Ramesh, bluntly said that their visit to the Thiruvanathapuram hospital was “unwarranted”.
It is however understood that the staging of the fireworks despite the administration’s refusal to permit was guided by legislative Assembly’s electoral politics. So was the manner in which both Modi and Rahul Gandhi descended on the scene.
Normally officials even at the level of the DGP and health services do not speak so boldly and on record. Ramesh's words describing the amount of inconvenience and how most of the VVIPs visiting the hospital were not even sterilised are disturbing. Patients with serious burn injuries with their lives hanging by a thread are prone to quick infections. Such patients are isolated even in muggy hospitals, and in that Thiruvanathapuram hospital, with 136 to be precise, it would have definitely upset the logistics of the hospital.
The VVIPs with their entourage stomping into hospital wards holds no respect for the patients’ rights and privacy. In their agony, they may not have even recognised who came to ‘console’ them. Relief is all that they seek at such a critical moment. Much like what victims of communal riots seek, instead they are used in as photo opportunities for the leaders. Ramesh said the visit was intrusive to an extent that nurses were not able to reach the intensive care units.
A leader's prompt visit to a crisis scene to provide help to the affected victims not only upsets the on-going management but also defies the very logic of crisis management. It apparently shows lack of faith in the local administrators, who could have been asked by a mere phone call to buck up and assure any assistance if required.
But haven’t we read news stories about the prime minister or chief minister of any state “instructing” the concerned to do the needful? It is not because things are always bad on the ground but because the leaders who mess things up think they are good at micro management. Such a top down approach has helped none.