Sunday, 14 September, 2008

Injured state of emergency

Shaili Chopra
Senior News Editor- Corporate, NDTV Profit
Sunday, September,14 2008 (New Delhi)
It's an angry state of affairs. It's the second test for the capital city in recent times, and it has failed. There's confusion and there are corpses; there are cops but where are the caretakers? Red lights and sirens are making our television screens bleed but our eyes search for ambulances. And there are no ambulances. It's an injured state of emergency services in India.

The blasts in Delhi on Saturday evening took place in busy, rich and upper middle class neighbourhoods. Isn't it ironic that even in these areas (that normally claim to be organised and well equipped), our emergency services don't stay up on alert? We saw the police in their gypsies who came to control and cordon off but where were the ambulances? Not many of us realise that these police cars, some of which carried people to hospitals, don't even have any first aid or emergency care facility. Does Delhi have its own state emergency ambulances prepared to take charge, like modern cities of the developed world? Roads in cities like Singapore, Dubai are all equipped with an emergency lane, any breach of which is heavily fined. We in India just often appear to wait for the ambulances to speed in from the nearest hospital, not to ignore the traffic they face. Injured were dragged, helplessly by common people and taken to hospitals, some might have survived if they were attended to enroute by the right kind of care.

Amidst all this, ironically, there's an admission through email or an announcement by who really was behind the blasts. At one time it was the Mujahideen and Al-Qaida, now we have a most potent local player called the Indian Mujahideen. It's as if it were a part of all us, now that its Indian and not foreign terrorists. What makes things worse, is that the 'claiming of the event' appears to add a sense of finality to the attack or blasts, once we all get to know who really was behind it.

In the last 5 years in India, in Ahmedabad and Surat, hospitals were targeted. In Varanasi temples were attacked. In Delhi busy markets and in Mumbai the aam janta trains. Have we not learnt our lessons?

All India wakes up to after a day of big attacks and blasts is a consolation statement by a slew of politicians, some of who would think less about investing in emergency care but spending more time and money jet setting in helicopters, getting their pictures clicked on the sites, as proof of their concern.

Year after year Indians have seen and experienced blasts, attacks in crowded areas ahead of the festive season. It's a bit like a trend and it doesn't take serious intelligence to make a guess. Even the Indian public today has seen this over the years so why hasn't the government?

But why are we surprised? Emergency services would only be prepared if there was a sense of urgency at the government's level. 2005 till now, little has changed for Sarojini Nagar. The CCTV cameras meant for monitoring the market area hadn't arrived till 2007, and when they did, who knows who monitors them? And why should be public be assured of safety in Sarojini Nagar. This is only a case in example, because every day there's a threat, there's a lurking fear in the streets of Hyderabad to the bylanes of Mumbai, and there's reality that there goverment hasn't done the homework. The home minister hasn't done the homework. After the last three attacks on the nation, his statements have been the same, like sound bites from the archive, just played incident after incident.

Correspondents on the ground report again and again - they say there's 'confusion'. And what else could they say? What a sorry picture for the world's largest democracy that at the scene of blasts and death only bring pictures of chaos and no sense of method when hell is breaking loose, by either the administration or emergency services. In India no one takes charge when blasts happen, groups only take responsibility.

How long will India live by the spirit of its cities? The spirit of Mumbaikars on the trains, the spirit of the Dilliwala frying samosas in bylanes of Gaffar market, the spirit that's alive among the traders of Surat. The tests of public patience need to stop. Will the home minister step out of his home.

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