Libertatem Magazine

Disaster Management Act, 2005: An Overview

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The Disaster Management Act, 2005 was passed by both the Houses of Parliament, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on the dates of 28th November 2005 and 12th December 2005 respectively. The earthquake and tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean in 2004 were a major catalyst for the passage of DMA. It was asserted by the then President of India, Mr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam on the 23rd of December, 2005, and extended to the whole country. “An Act to provide for the effective management of catastrophes and things associated therewith or ancillary thereto,” reads the opening sentence of the Act. The Act not only establishes national agencies and functionaries, as well as their powers and responsibilities, but it also establishes a comprehensive framework within which state, district, and local level bodies are established and officials designated to carry out their assigned tasks and responsibilities in disaster management.




The Act is divided into 11 chapters and 79 sections, and it describes the creation of various national and subordinate authorities and committees for the effective enforcement and implementation of disaster management strategies and plans.

The first and most powerful entity is the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The NDMA, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, can only have 9 members, including the vice-chairperson, who is also selected by the Prime Minister. The NDMA is primarily responsible for establishing rules and standards to guarantee a successful disaster response. Similar to the NDMA, a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) is also set up for every state and is similarly headed by the Chief Minister of the state as its chairperson. A State Executive Committee (SEC) assists the SDMA in drafting the state disaster management plan.

The District Collector, District Magistrate, or Deputy Commissioner of the district leads the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA).

A National Event Response Force (NDRF) has also been established to respond to a potentially catastrophic disaster that necessitates quick help. The Central Government appoints a Director-General to lead the organization.


DMA and COVID-19


The provisions of the DMA,2005 were utilized for the first time on March 25, 2020, when a nationwide lockdown was implemented in the country. The lockdown was imposed under sections 6 and 10 of the Act, which gave the NDMA the authority to draught nationwide disaster management plans and ensure their consistent implementation through the SDMAs.

Some State Governments have added to the DMA, used the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and various state-specific Public Health Acts (for example Tamil Nadu Public Health Act,1939). In addition to the aforementioned statute, Kerala used its legislative jurisdiction under State List Entry 6 (Public Health and Sanitation) to enact the ‘Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020.’


Criticisms and Challenges


Even though the DMA was responsible for filling a large gap in systematic disaster management operations, it still has its detractors.

One of the most widely stated criticisms of the Act is the absence of a provision for declaration of ‘disaster-prone zones. In the majority of developing as well as developed countries, such disaster-related legislation has mapped out disaster-prone zones within their respective jurisdictions. Having certain zones earmarked as disaster-prone makes it easier for the state to be proactive in terms of readiness and response in case of a disaster. 

Another criticism of the Act is that it neglects the progressive nature of disasters. It acknowledges that disasters can strike without warning, but it fails to mention that some disasters can develop over time. For example, periodic dengue and tuberculosis epidemics have wreaked devastation on the country, even though nothing notable has been done to effectively combat the diseases.

Furthermore, the many national and subordinate level bodies established under the Act appear to have some overlap in terms of function, causing coordination to fall. Instead of being advised to take “necessary measures”, local authorities should be given more independence and power in terms of decision-making. They should also be given much clearer instructions based on the context.

In addition to the aforementioned complaints, the disaster management scheme in India faces issues due to overall inadequacies in terms of responsiveness, execution, and procedural lag. There is also a wide range of technology breakthroughs available for anticipating the likelihood of disasters and preventing large-scale damage.

Further, rather than relying solely on on-paper policies, the government may substantially benefit by putting plans into action on the ground. NGOs and local civic authorities, which have been largely disregarded up until now, could be given a far more proactive role in the future.

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