Initiatives for Disaster Risk Reduction by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board

Dr. Piyush Singla
14 Feb 2017

Vaishno Devi Yatra made risk-free

Situated at an altitude of 5200 feet above the sea level in Sub–Himalayan Shivalik (the three peaked Trikuta hills) range is the world famous cave shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji. The pilgrims have to trek nearly 12 Km from the base camp at Katra for the darshan at sanctum sanctorum which remains open round the clock throughout the year.

The management of the pilgrimage of the Shrine is vested in Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, setup in August, 1986 under the provisions of Jammu & Kashmir Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Act, 1988. The tremendous growth of facilities for the visiting pilgrims over the years has led to the humongous increase of yatra from 1.4 million in 1986 to 10 million in the year 2011 and 2012. Huge volume reflects pressure on the resources and need for ever-evolving resilience and sustainability of the system to bear that pressure.

Disaster Vulnerability of the place

The unique topography of Shrine in Himalayan Shivalik hills at height of 5200 feet make it susceptible to the various natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, shooting stones, hailstorms, torrential rains and forest fires. This area falls under Zone V of seismic classification which makes it highly vulnerable to earthquakes. A large part of the extended Shrine area is covered with dense pine forests, making it prone to frequent forest fires, particularly during summer. The temperature for the Shrine area ranges between 43 degrees in peak summers to biting -5 degrees in peak winters.

Policy approach towards Disaster vulnerability

With such high levels of multi-pronged disaster vulnerability the Board has given special focus to develop strategies which focus on Disaster Risk Reduction and Building resilience as envisaged in Sendai Framework. Accordingly Shrine Board adopted multipronged strategy starting from creating awareness, imparting trainings, building capacities through infrastructure creation alongwith mitigating the impact through suitable technological interventions.

Road Map- Innovations/Interventions in Disaster Risk reduction (DRR)

As part of prevention and mitigation plan Shrine Board undertook major infrastructural projects like stabilization of active slopes of daunting hills as well as erecting specially designed stone resistant shelter sheds along the tortuous track and chainlink fencing of whole track for protection from accidental falling. A well defined Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been laid down for preventive clearance of slopes from boulders/stones for disaster risk minimization from falling stones/boulders. This speaks of intention of authorities to go extra mile in DRR

Besides to increase responsiveness of system to any disaster/urgency infrastructure has been created which includes 8 Disaster management (DM) stores equipped with latest DM equipment at all major yatra stations. A time-bound upkeep and maintenance of such stores is strictly monitored. Five Joint Control Rooms manned jointly by various forces and stakeholders equipped with latest connectivity and monitoring technologies has been set up to keep a strong vigil on yatra related activities.

For effective medical first aid responsiveness six Medical Relief and Care units have been set up at various yatra stations. These are network of fully equipped and professionally manned (with BLS, ACLS qualified doctors and paramedical staff) medical dispensaries with swift linkage of referral, by use of fastest means like Helicopter, to Community Health Centre and tertiary care facilities available at 230 bedded Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Naryana Super Speciality Hospital established in the vicinity of Shrine.

A QRT of ‘Disaster Management Task Force (DMTF)’ has been constituted and specially trained in relief and rescue. Capacity building measures inter-alia includes more than 80 supervised and professional training sessions in DM catering more than 2000 employees. Various other areas of trainings include search and rescue, evacuation, emergency medical first responders etc with emphasis on frequent mock drills at various stations.

To integrate information technology in DRR, underground network of OFC (Optical fibre Cable) has been laid on the entire tortuous and daunting track of approx. 12 Km length. This OFC is being used to run State of art Multipurpose Audio System which has proven to be a game changer in information dissemination especially at times of emergency. These have been linked with joint control rooms for effective coordination. Similarly 3 emergency helipads have been established as part of emergency evacuation plan.

Besides for ecological sustainability a fully integrated forest fire management plan is in operation for enhanced protection and mitigation.

So it goes beyond saying that Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has adopted best international practices and walked an extra mile to take up innovations with regards to Disaster Risk Reduction.

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