J&K Lacked Disaster Preparedness For Communication Breakdown

23 September 2014
The Daily Excelsior
Fayaz Bukhari

Srinagar: State Government's disaster preparedness to deal with the communication breakdown was lacking as it had not put forward its requirements before the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for setting up Disaster Management Support (DMS) Satellite communication network. The ISRO as part of its DMS provides Satellite communication nodes to those States which make a request but the Jammu and Kashmir had not put any request before the ISRO for setting up DMS nodes. However, ISRO airlifted four nodes of Satellite communication network along with 13 officials to re-connect the State to outside world for coordinating relief and rescue work when there was total communication breakdown due to floods in Kashmir valley. Virender Kumar, group head of Satcom Systems and Technology Group (SSTG) at ISRO's Space Application Centre at Ahmedabad, when asked why the DMS nodes were not installed earlier in Jammu and Kashmir as it is placed in disaster-prone zone, he said: 'The ISRO is ready to install these nodes across the country but it is the State Government which has to come forward with its requirements.' The devastating floods marooned the fibre-optic based and mobile telephone communication system in Kashmir on September 7. The floods damaged 6811 mobile towers, affected functioning of 142 telephone exchanges including the main BSNL exchange at Central Telegraph Office, Srinagar. The ISRO team arrived in Srinagar on September 14 and set up communication nodes at Hariniwas, Rajbhawan, Civil Secretariat and Srinagar Airport. The provided round the clock communication between the officials of the State Government and other agencies in the flood-affected areas as well as the outside world for coordinating rescue and relief. The first node was set up inside the premises of Hari Niwas Guest House, which had become the make shift Secretariat wherefrom Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, several of his Ministers and top officials were operating till Sunday (September 21). Virender Kumar said that they handed over the four nodes to the State Government and asked them to shift them to disaster prone areas of the State once situation in Srinagar improves. 'We have handed over the four nodes to the State Government if, God forbid, these are needed again. The ISRO will arrange for the annual maintenance contract for these nodes but it is now the responsibility of the State Government to keep this equipment running,' Kumar said. The ISRO official said this way the equipment will be in use round the year, minimising the chances of it not functioning at the time of need. 'We are working for last couple of years across the country to set up DMS network. We will be enhancing the capability of the network in future,' Kumar said. Kumar said the space research organisation is mulling to connect the DMS nodes to the ground optic fibre network. 'This will allow the use of these communication nodes through the ground optic fibre in normal times and the same equipment can switch over to satellite communication in case the ground network is snapped as in case of Kashmir floods,' Kumar said. The ISRO official said that they had brought all equipment including generators along to connect Kashmir with rest of the world. 'Our team waded through waist deep water to install the communication node at the Civil Secretariat', he said. Kumar was satisfied that the Valley has been connected to the country-wide Disaster Management Support (DMS) network and in case of any unfortunate incident these nodes will be vital for remaining in touch with outside world. The ISRO official praised State Government employees who learned the operation of the communication nodes in the shortest possible time Kumar said that the DMS nodes, besides providing telephone connectivity, also gave access to the State officials including the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to the internet facilities. 'The broadband facility was operation round the clock while Chief Minister's iPad was enabled through one of the nodes,' he added. Kumar and his team expressed their gratitude to the people of Kashmir and the State Government for the logistics and hospitality extended to them during their 10-day stay in the Valley. 'We came here on the instructions of ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan and SAC Centre Ahmedabad Director A S Kiran Kumar. When we arrived we didn't know what is ahead for us. We carried everything with us, including cooking gas, onions, vegetable oil and other food items, tents and sleeping bags', he said. 'We are thankful to Chief Minister, the officials and the people for the hospitality. We did not expect such hospitality in such hard times,' Kumar said. The ISRO official said that by coming here and connecting Kashmir with the rest of the world was our job and it was not a favour to the people of the State. 'We only did our job. The biggest takeaway from this tragedy has been the number of good friends we made here', he added. In the meantime, Ministry of Home Affairs report said that out of 6811 affected mobile towers 3409 were restored and out of 142 affected telephone exchanges 116 were restored. The report says that Airtel provided 5 Vsats for public use and 2 of them were set up at Badami Bagh camp, two at Army Base Camp at Airport and one at Barzulla Gurdwara.