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Knee-jerk

Once again, just like that fateful Sunday, the sequence of events leading up to yesterday’s knee-jerk alarm issued by the Centre shows ...

Written by Shishir Gupta | New Delhi |
January 1, 2005

Once again, just like that fateful Sunday, the sequence of events leading up to yesterday’s knee-jerk alarm issued by the Centre shows glaring gaps in communication between agencies of the government—in this case two Ministries, Home and Science & Technology, and the Indian Meteorological Department.

So much so that one Ministry, Home, issued the alarm based on inputs received from a Portland-based firm even before a meeting was called to discuss these inputs.

And ironically, it was the Ministry of Science and Technology—which paraded its experts later in the day—that forwarded these inputs.

This, when that US firm, Terra Research, contacted by The Indian Express admitted that ‘‘little was known’’ about its technology and claimed that its method to ‘‘predict’’ quakes was a ‘‘new science.’’

Consider the sequence of events:

On morning of December 30, IMD receives information from Portland-based Terra Research saying their warning systems in Pacific indicate a tsunami will follow quakes ranging between 7.9-8.1 on the Richter. The tsunami, the organisation said, could happen in the next 12 hours but the forecast was valid till January 1,2005.

IMD forwarded this to the Ministry of Science & Technology.

A meeting in the Science and Technology Ministry was summoned and the ISRO office in the US was asked to contact Terra Research, who stood by their predictions.

This input was then passed on to the Disaster Management Cell of Home.

At 11.15 am, a meeting was called by Home Minister Shivraj Patil. This was attended by S&T Minister Kapil Sibal, Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi and Secretary (Ocean Development) Harsh Gupta.

It was at this meeting, that Gupta said no science can predict an earthquake and that the tsunami only takes place post-tectonic shift. The consensus was that government should err on the side of caution and a ‘‘general alert’’ be issued.

 
Govt not doing enough: BJP
   

But Home Secretary Dhirender Singh said a warning had already been issued by the Ministry to all states concerned.

Singh said even the PMO had been informed with an advice that the PM should not visit the tsunami-hit areas.

When contacted, Singh told The Indian Express: ‘‘The disaster management cell, as per rules, gets scientific information from various departments. A written information of quake came from the IMD … the decision to issue the warning was taken at the inter-ministerial meeting.’’

But Singh’s own Secretary A K Rastogi went on record that the tsunami warning was issued ‘‘tennish.’’

The tsunami confusion got compounded by Andmans Lt Governor Ram Kapse, who went on TV saying first that the tidal wave was expected by 12.15 pm and then saying it was coming at 2.30 pm.

As the wave of panic spread, a Secretary-level meeting was summoned in tge S&T Ministry by Sibal and a decision was taken that the Minister should clarify to the media. It was then that Sibal denied that there was any impending tsunami warning.

At 6.40 pm, the Home Ministry’s disaster management cell called the IMD department asking for inputs on the quake. It is then that the IMD Ministry sent a message that 12 hours had passed by since the warning. It was on the basis of this message, that the Home Ministry withdrew the warning.

Meanwhile, Sibal met Congress President Sonia Gandhi today and is said to have discussed his Ministry’s efforts in the aftermath of the disaster.

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