We Have a Number of MOM- like Programmes

By GovernanceToday
In Cover Story
November 3, 2014
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Mother earth has a lot to offer it requires science to understand her. Government of India felt its importance and formed Ministry of Earth Sciences in 2006 from the merger of India Meteorological Department (IMD), National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Earth Risk Evaluation Centre (EREC) and the Ministry of Ocean Development. The MoES is mandated to provide the nation with best possible services in forecasting the monsoons and other weather/climate parameters, ocean state, earthquakes, tsunamis and other phenomena related to earth systems through well integrated programmes. The ministry also deals with science and technology for exploration and exploitation of ocean resources (living and non-living), and play nodal role for Antarctic/Arctic and Southern Ocean research. Ramesh Kumar Raja, Correspondent, Governance Today, talked to Dr Shailesh Nayak, Secretary, MoES and Chairman, Earth Commission about different aspects of one of the youngest ministries. Edited excerpts:

Dr Shailesh Nayak,What is the current budget allocation for Ministry of Earth Sciences ?
It’s a meagre amount of Rs 1,281 crore. It’s a very small sum if we compare the same with other ministries and also with the amount spent on scientific studies in developed nations. We expect some hike from the government to enhance our capability in Earth sciences.

How do you look at our alarm system which is not strong enough to deal with disasters such torrential rain, flash floods etc. in different parts of India ?
Disasters will keep occurring. Our job is to issue prior warning and we do it at least three days before any occurrence. If you talk about tragedies
in Jammu and Kashmir this year and Uttarakhand last year, we already had raised alarms. We keep doing so before any cyclone or catastrophic
event occurs. Recently, we had issued a warning about heavy rain and floods in the north-eastern states. We had also raised alarm before cyclone Phailin in the recent past and the same we did prior to cyclone Hudhud. Our ministry is very prompt in issuing advisory. The rest depends on implementing sides.

Don’t you feel it’s proving a flop programme the way you raise alarm at your end turns futile at the other end, possibly at the side of implementation ?
See, three factors are involved in such situations. First is the basis of science on which we issue a warning or an advisory. Second is the way of response on the basis of advisory. And third is the level of consciousness of the affected communities. The outcome would be positive only when
these three work in tandem or simultaneously. However, sometimes the situation is very different. It takes time to respond to the warning issued by us. The recent flash flood in Jammu and Kashmir falls in this category. The area there is so bowl-shaped that once the water enters it’s difficult to exit. Even though there are many such issues, we keep ourselves engaged in the system of forecasting, which happens to be the job of our ministry. The rest course of action goes beyond the purview of our ministry.

What is the procedure of passing on information to the next level? Does the MoES give info to the rescuing bodies as well ?
We share our information to all, whether it’s state government, district officers, home ministry or NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) or any other designated for the purpose.

How do you look at India’s successful mission to South Pole carried out by National Centre for Antarctic and Open Research (NCAOR), an institute under your ministry, in 2010 ?
Definitely, it’s a great achievement for our country. Actually, the mission had been planned to explore the possibility of survival in the most extreme conditions of Antarctica, even farther away from ‘Maitri’, India’s research base in the coldest place of the land. We wanted to check the scope of our reach in the weather conditions that is not conducive for survival. It was also a demonstration to build confidence in people that they can live far off in Antarctica with certain facilities. The team also conducted certain scientific experiments in this regard with an aim to move ahead in future with day to day requirements.

What has been the development in the last four years?
Thanks to the 2010 mission, now our people are penetrating deeper into Antarctica and exploring more avenues of reach by staying there for 2-3 days. Earlier, they used to be close to the base station.

What is/are the reason/s behind MoES for having a number of departments, most of them located outside the national capital? What is the common purpose?
These are actually not departments, but research institutes; each of them having a specific task to do in the larger interest of the nation. Once the research conducted by an institute is complete, the service or product generated in it, is used for the benefits of economy, environment, etc.
This is not a typical ministry, most of its work is done like any other research institute. This is not a funding agency, it works itself and give inputs and info to others.

You are said to be instrumental in developing warning system for Tsunami in India. Tell us about the development.
The need for an early warning system was felt after the 2004 tragedy when the government decided to devise a mechanism to avert catastrophes
if Tsunami hits next time. Until then India had no such system. On the other hand, the warning systems of United States and Japan were not that much useful as they were merely based on the earthquake. Our system has the extraordinary potential to disseminate accurate information
– from its timing to its height – across 1,800 points of the Indian cost within 10 minutes. The information is provided  o other countries as well. The system involves a network of seismic stations, tidal stations, bottom pressure recorders, and real time analysis of data, modelling of travel time, propagation of tsunami wave and inundation and generation of high resolution bathymetry and coastal topography data. So, it is technically highly sophisticated.

Any achievement for MoES in the recent past as India is a land of different forms of natural calamity ?
Our constant endeavour to improve accuracy and track correctest of data of natural occurrences is one real achievement. It’s a spontaneous effort that we make round the clock.

Has there been change in any policy since you took office in 2008 ?
Not as such, as it’s a scientific department. It has three basic purposes. The first and foremost is to improve the science of forecast. Second is the job of exploration in places such as Antarctica, Arctic and deep Ocean and developing technology for exploitation of resources (living and non-living). And third is the installation of system to observe and maintain these two.

Any maritime exploration operated ?
A maritime exploration is going on in south-west Indian Ocean where deposits of hydrosulphide have been found from which minerals such as
zinc, copper, gold, silver etc. can be extracted.

Why the need for Earth Commission when there is already a ministry dedicated to Earth sciences ?
The Earth Commission works in mission mode based on commission structure. It is responsible for formulating policies and overseeing implementation of policies and programmes in mission mode, and ensure the necessary interdisciplinary integration. It has been constituted for big programmes, such as exploration of oceans, Antarctica etc., which calls for long-term commitment.

Doesn’t MoES have a dream programme like Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) ?
We have a number of such programmes related to monsoon, climate, earthquake etc. While Monsoon Mission is aimed at improving the predictions of rainy season, there is a climate programme that seeks to understand its changing pattern in the next 100 years. Similarly, we are fixing an eight-kilometre drill at Koyna in western Maharashtra for earthquake research. We are also carrying out a deep sea drilling of approximately 1.5 km in the Arabian Sea to understand the evolution of Himalaya and origin of monsoons.

Does MoES have a tie-up with any foreign agency ?
Yes, we have alliances with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, Met Office of United Kingdom and Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology ( JAMSTEC), to name a few. We have tie-ups with all those agencies where we feel our need to share scientific and technical skills in enhancing the observations of the Earth and use the information most effectively for the benefit of
the society.

Various units under the Ministry of Earth Sciences:
  • India Meteorological Department (IMD)
  • National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF),
  • Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) Pune,
  • National Centre for Earth Science Studies (NCESS), Thiruvananthapuram
  • Earthquake Risk Evaluation Centre (EREC)
  • National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) Chennai
  • National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research (NCAOR) Goa
  • Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) Hyderabad
  • Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management Project Directorate (ICMAM-PD) Chennai
  • Centre for Marine Living Resources & Ecology (CMLRE) Kochi

His Wisdom

Formerly a scientist at Space Applications Centre, ISRO, Dr Shailesh Nayak has been providing leadership to Earth system sciences in the country since August 2008. He is credited to have set up the state-of-the-art Tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean in 2007. He pioneered the development of algorithms and methodologies for application of remote sensing to coastal and marine environment, generated baseline database of the Indian coast, and developed services for fishery and ocean state forecast. He was conferred the prestigious ISC Vikram Sarabhai Memorial Award 2012 as well as Bhaskara Award for 2009. He is Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bengaluru, and the International Society of Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing (ISPRS). He has been awarded honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the Andhra University and Assam University. He has published about 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals.