My  latest  column in The Asian  Age and Deccan Chronicle

Safety Last, We Are Indians

Mar 15, 2011

As I write this column, Japan is fighting to contain what could be the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years after the cooling failed at a third reactor. Already crippled by an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale, and a tsunami, this is the first nuclear emergency with 24×7 television coverage, tracked on the Web, twitter and across social media sites.

While we share Japan’s terror and sorrow, several critical questions come to mind. There are the obvious ones that relate to the safety of nuclear power plants worldwide, including in India, and in the days to come these will come to the fore. But there is also the broader context of safety preparedness and practices that impact our day-to-day life.
Every year, India celebrates a “National Safety Week” from March 4-10. During the week, there are elocutions, slogan competitions, lectures and workshops on various aspects of safety. But barely a day passes when newspapers and news channels do not refer to an incident that vividly illustrates our appalling lack of safety preparedness and practices in everyday life.
Take just four examples: In December 2004, parts of southern India and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were ravaged by a tsunami. India was among the worst-affected after Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Some 10,000 people are believed to have died, with thousands more missing. The tsunami cost India more than a billion dollars. In October 2007, India installed an early warning system for tsunamis at the cost of `120 crores. Last week, in the wake of the ferocious tsunami that lashed Japan, we learnt that part of our tsunami alert system has become dysfunctional. Fishermen have broken open and taken away the metal parts of many of the warning buoys deployed in the Indian seas. The government has been quick to deny any shortcomings in the tsunami alert system in the country but has not denied that the buoys had been vandalised.

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