Mobile apps, generative AI, blockchain, satellite data, early warning systems and better inter-agency coordination are key to India’s disaster-preparedness transformations.

Recently, a portion of the Silkyara tunnel under construction in Uttarakhand, a neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, collapsed, trapping 41 workers inside. After massive efforts, all the workers were rescued, thanks to the use of modern technologies such as the global navigation satellite system (GNSS), generative AI, blockchain, and the ‘Chakbandi.AI’ model.

In an interview with Naveen Kumar of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), who is serving as the Revenue Secretary/ Relief Commissioner, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh, the ‘Chakbandi.AI’ model and other cutting-edge technologies will be invaluable in disaster management and land consolidation policies in the country.

DigiconAsia: What are the biggest opportunities you see for using technology to improve disaster relief efforts?

Naveen Kumar, Revenue Secretary/Relief Commissioner, Government of Uttar Pradesh

Naveen Kumar (NK): The role of adopting technology in disaster management extends beyond the immediate protection of people; it also plays a crucial role in extracting valuable information and data that can be instrumental in mitigating the impact of future natural disasters.

In this context, a significant initiative underway is the establishment of a Climate Resilient Observatory (CRO) in Uttar Pradesh. This observatory is designed to incorporate several essential features to enhance disaster preparedness and response.

  • One pivotal feature of the CRO is the incorporation of an Early Warning System, designed to provide timely alerts and notifications, enabling the authorities to take proactive measures and evacuate vulnerable areas when impending natural disasters such as floods or cyclones are detected. Such early warnings can save lives and reduce the damage caused by these events significantly.
  • Another key aspect of the CRO is its capability to collect real-time data and statistics to enable a dynamic assessment of the situation during a disaster. It allows for immediate response coordination and a better understanding of the disaster’s impact, aiding in the allocation of resources and assistance to the affected areas efficiently.
  • We have implemented digitalized Direct Benefit Transfer schemes for quick compensation to farmers for crop damages, and also maintain a responsive RAHAT call center. Proactive data integration and the Apada Prahari app to facilitate swift disaster responses.

The use of these technologies aids in protecting people during disasters and also provides a wealth of data for future predictions and strategies to minimize the impact of natural disasters.

DigiconAsia: How do you ensure collaboration with other government departments to address relief and land consolidation issues in a coordinated manner?

NK: To ensure effective collaboration with other government departments for addressing relief and land consolidation issues in a coordinated manner, several strategies are employed:

  • Amendments in policies focusing on disaster risk reduction (DRR): Prioritizing DRR ensures that relief and land consolidation efforts are aligned with a common goal of minimizing the impact of disasters and consolidating land resources efficiently.
  • Departmental schemes for Disaster Impact Mitigation: Government departments design their schemes and initiatives to be capable of handling and minimizing the impact of disasters. This proactive approach ensures that each department contributes to relief efforts in a coordinated manner.
  • Utilization of the Family ID system: Implementing a Family ID system enables long-term benefits for disaster victims. This ID helps in tracking and providing support to affected families beyond immediate relief, ensuring a more holistic approach to recovery.
  • Involvement of various government entities and technologies: Collaboration is established with various government entities, including IT & Electronics, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the Survey of India (SOI), Remote Sensing and Aerial Coverage (RSAC), as well as academic institutions like IITs/IIITs. This multi-agency approach incorporates emerging technologies into the ecosystem, enhancing data collection, analysis, and response capabilities for relief and land consolidation efforts.

By implementing these strategies, government departments can work together in a coordinated and synchronized manner to address relief and land consolidation issues, ultimately leading to more efficient and effective outcomes.

DigiconAsia: What are the biggest challenges you face in providing aid to people affected by natural and man-made disasters?

NK: The myriad challenges encompass:

  • Connectivity and Communication: Establishing and maintaining effective communication networks, especially in remote or disaster-affected areas, is a fundamental challenge. Ensuring that timely information reaches those in need and that coordination with various response teams is seamless is crucial. Coordination with the local police needs to be effective, especially in the break-down of law and order during disasters. Collaborative efforts with the police are essential to maintain order and security.
  • Availability of emergency resources: In an emergency, the resources needed — including food; clean water; shelter and medical supplies — can become strained. Ensuring a sufficient and timely supply of these resources is a significant challenge. The lack of first aid and hospital facilities can pose a significant challenge. Addressing this scarcity is essential.
  • Logistics and supply chains: Under adverse conditions, managing logistics and supply chains efficiently to transport resources to disaster-stricken areas is a constant challenge. Roadblocks, damaged infrastructure, and disrupted transportation systems can hinder the swift delivery of aid.
  • Weather and environmental conditions: Uttar Pradesh’s vast geographical expanse presents a considerable challenge. Coordinating relief efforts across such a large area with diverse needs and vulnerabilities demands effective planning and deployment. Adverse weather and environmental conditions add to the challenges of providing timely relief efforts. Adapting to these adverse conditions while providing aid is a significant challenge.

In my role as Relief Commissioner, addressing these challenges requires a well-structured and adaptable disaster management framework. Collaboration with various government departments, timely decision-making, and the utilization of technology are vital in ensuring that aid reaches those affected by natural and man-made disasters in a coordinated and efficient manner.

To continually improve our operations, we are working to meet several key objectives.

  • First and foremost, the department aims to achieve 100% automation of manual processes, which will not only streamline operations but also enhance efficiency and reduce the likelihood of errors. 
  • Another vision is optimizing land use for disaster preparedness in Uttar Pradesh encompasses several critical components.
    • One primary objective of this land consolidation is to reorganize the scattered land holdings of farmers, facilitating the arrangement of drainage systems, road networks, and land allocation for public purposes.
    • We are implementing the Chakbandi.AI model and integrating emerging technologies like GNSS, generative AI, and blockchain to expedite the process.
    • The development of a Farmer Passbook; an online platform for dispute resolution; and sensitizing of ground-level officials will contribute to efficient land consolidation.
    • We will also seek to minimize legal disputes related to land ownership claims and disputes, to promote  fair and efficient land consolidation practices.
    • Furthermore, the vision prioritizes trust, transparency, and participation, engaging stakeholders in the decision-making process, and fostering collaboration among various parties involved in land management.
  • To modernize the system, emerging technologies are being actively explored through expressions of interest (EOI), with proof of concepts (POCs) executed in collaboration with industry partners.
  • Additionally, the department intends to incorporate emerging technologies, particularly within the Consolidation and RAHAT departments, to improve the delivery of services to citizens. Collaborating with academia and industry partners is another pivotal aspect of this vision, as it can bring fresh perspectives, research capabilities, and innovation to the department. The vision also includes the development of a Sue-Moto approach for service delivery, ensuring a more proactive and citizen-centric approach. 
  • Leveraging the AADHAAR and Family ID systems is another critical component of the vision, which can enhance the accuracy and security of data, ultimately leading to more efficient processes and improved service delivery.
  • Finally, lessons from continual visits to other states, including Punjab, Haryana, Delhi; and interactions with educational institutions like IIT-Roorkee, will contribute to a well-rounded approach to land consolidation and governance in Uttar Pradesh.

Going forward, we envision a future marked by automation, technology integration, collaboration, proactive service delivery, and the effective use of identification systems, all aimed at modernizing and optimizing the department’s operations.

DigiconAsia thanks Naveen for sharing his vision for improve disaster relief and preparedness.