Over the centuries, India was affected by numerous disasters such as floods, cyclones, tsunamis, earth quakes, the plague and other epidemic diseases cost the lives of many and destroyed numerous properties. The Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, which left thousands dead and injured, added a new dimension to the problems faced by India in responding to both natural and man-made disasters. India has a large Chemical industrial base which is not comprehensively regulated. Being a nuclear power, India has 20 nuclear reactors in operation in six nuclear power plants. Additionally, India is greatly vulnerable to health disasters caused by pathogens spread due to the low standards of health, hygiene, sanitation, and large concentrations of people in urban areas.

Over the decade, India has been seriously preparing to respond to all types of disasters. Earlier to that, the Indian Armed Forces were the principal responders and were always called upon to help the civil administration all over the country to mitigate/minimize the effects of these disasters. The civil administrations, both at the national and at the States level, were ill-prepared, organised and equipped to handle disasters of huge magnitude. The Civil Defence, Fire Services and States Police forces were not geared up to take up the role of first responders in case of huge disasters. And the capacity to respond to all possible CBRN disasters was negligible.

In the 2005, India established the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) headed by the Prime Minster through an act of the parliament. Similar organisations were created by all states, districts and municipalities. These authorities were tasked to work out plans and build capacities to respond to any type of disasters, including CBRN disasters. At the national level, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was set up to train, equip and respond to any type of disasters. The NDRF units are geographically located in those areas prone to frequent disasters to facilitate their speedy response. The NDMA has issued various guidelines to all states, districts and municipalities for instituting disaster response plans for each type of disaster, including CBRN disasters.

The Civil Defence Organisations (CDOs), the Central Police Organisations (CPOs), Home Guards (HGs) have been reorganised, revamped, reoriented, trained and equipped to be the first responders for all disasters. In case needed, the efforts of the these organisations would be augumented with the resources of the Indian Armed Forces depending on the magnitude of the disaster, as it happened in the recent case of a great disaster which occurred in the State of Uttarakhand. Indian Army has formed Qucik Reaction Teams and Qucik Reaction Medical Teams to respond to any CBRN disasters any where in India. A National Institute for Disater Management has been established to train personnel from NDRF, CPOs, CDOs, and States Police forces to respond to disasters. National Disaster Mitigation Resources Centres have been established all over the country.

NDMA has nominated certain ministries/departments at the national level as nodal agencies for those aspects related to their specialisation including the CBRN realm. Large number of hospitals in various cities and districts all over India have been designated to prepare for treating CBRN causalities. Plans are under implementation to train and equip teams in these hospitals. NDRF Units, CDOs, CPOs, HGs have been conducting joint mock drills/exercises at various locations to practice prompt responses to any CBRN disasters.

Academic and technical institutions, scientific organisations, non-governmental organisations, professional bodies and even the corporate sector are being involved to assist the government in its efforts to mitigate the effects of disasters.

At the State level, the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMA) headed by the Chief Minister of the state have been set up. Some of the State Armed Police units have been designated as State Disaster Response Forces.These units are being trained and equipped. The fire services, the civil police forces, and the home guards at the state level are being made aware and given basic training including on CBRN to respond to any type of disasters.

The hierarchy of SDMA also goes down to the districts and municipalities. Each of the districts and large cities have set up Disaster Management Sections/Cells which would operate as control centres in case of disasters occurring in their areas of responsibilities. They periodically carry out mock exercises to test their readiness.

Over the last decade, India and its States invested great efforts to prepare and respond to any type of disasters including CBRN disasters. Though much has been achieved, yet it is a long way to go for India to be fully geared up to respond to great disasters in an effective and timely manner.

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Col. Naidu Gade is a civil engineer and a management & security professional, with 40 years of rich experience in the field of Combat Engineering, CBRNe Defence and Security & Disaster Management. He is a qualified CBRN and EOD Specialist. As Chief CW Inspector at OPCW, he led teams of international professionals on a large number of verification missions to various member countries, to verify the inventory of Chemical Weapons and monitor their destruction. Currently he is Chief Consultant – CBRNe Security and Disaster Management with ‘CBRNe Secure India’ a ‘platform for bringing in awareness in the general public, government and corporate entities on the threats arising from the use of CBRNe material and their disastrous consequences. He is also the Technical Consultant for Bluecher GmbH, Germany – World leaders in CBRN Individual Protection Technologies.