Making Rescue Operations Effective: NDRF Starts Nationwide Survey Of Ropeway Systems
The nationwide survey of passenger cable cars and ropeway systems comes after three ropeway accidents that took place in Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh this year.
The National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) has started a nationwide survey of passenger cable cars and ropeway systems to find out possible security flaws in them and to prepare a structural blueprint that will help it launch effective rescue operations in case of an emergency or accident.
The move comes against the backdrop of at least three reported ropeway accidents that took place in Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh this year.
String Of Accidents
Three people lost their lives after cable cars got trapped mid-air on a ropeway at Trikut Hills, around 20 km from the temple town of Baidyanath Dham in Jharkhand's Deoghar district in April. Of the three dead, two fell to their death during a botched helicopter rescue attempt. A total of 60 tourists were safely evacuated in a 46-hour long rescue operation undertaken by a joint team, comprising personnel of Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), NDRF, and the district administration.
Eleven tourists were stranded for hours in a cable car stuck mid-air due to a glitch at Parwanoo’s Timber Trail in Himachal Pradesh’s Solan district before they were rescued in a six-hour-long operation undertaken by the NDRF and other agencies in June.
In a similar accident that took place in May, around 28 devotees, who were visiting the Maa Sharda Devi Temple on Maihar Hill, were stuck mid-air when the ropeway trolleys they were travelling on were stopped amid strong winds and heavy rains in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh. The ropeway management was successful in bringing down the trolleys and all the devotees were rescued without any major incident.
The operation and maintenance of ropeway projects is guided by the BIS Standards prescribed in this regard. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) on 8 September 2020 has notified certain Indian Standards under the Bureau of Indian Standards Rules, 2018 which needs to be scrupulously adhered to.
Further, the ropeway operators are required to take necessary guidance in this regard from National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), which is the nodal organisation under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India.
Soon after the Deoghar ropeway accident, the Ministry of Home Affairs on 12 April 2022 had issued an advisory, citing the need for a detailed standard operating procedure (SOP) and contingency plan for ropeway activities in order to avoid any such accident in the future.
In the letter issued by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla to the chief secretaries of all the states, they were directed to enroll suitable private firms to hold an audit of the prevailing safety situation for conducting such activities.
"The state government must engage an experienced and qualified firm or organisation to carry out a safety audit of each ropeway project. The entity operating the ropeway must comply with all the issues arising out of the audit," the ministry said.
It was further emphasised that the states must ensure complete adherence to the operations and maintenance of the ropeway projects.
“For each ropeway project, a maintenance manual must be prepared. In addition to the maintenance manual, there should be a maintenance programme so that the safety standards conform to good industry practices. The entity operating the ropeways must maintain a record of all the activities undertaken as part of the maintenance programme," it added.
The letter also urged the states to take a review of the situation in respect of all the ropeway projects and ensure that SOPs, contingency plans for operation and maintenance of ropeways, and a system of safety audits are in place. The ministry further asserted that mock drills or mock exercises for handling contingency situations involving ropeways are periodically conducted.
The survey exercise by the NDRF shall be conducted by a special team of officers culled out from all the 16 NDRF battalions, based across the country with a jurisdiction of operation in various states. The team will visit these ropeway systems, carry out a security and operations analysis and submit a report.
"We have begun a survey of all the passenger ropeway and cable car systems in the country to understand their operations and suggest remedial action. There are more than 50 such systems in India which are used for transport of pilgrims, tourists and passengers.
"The aim of the exercise is to not only sensitise the operators of this mode of transport about the precautions they should practise and preparations they should have, it will also give us an action plan which can be used during emergencies and disasters that hit the ropeway system," NDRF Director General (DG) Atul Karwal told PTI.
"The final report will be submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and we would recommend remedial measures to the operators. We will have learnings, as per our mandate, post this survey," added Karwal.
Apart from security surveys, the federal contingency force has also decided to train its rescuers in gaining and honing specific ropeway rescue skills. The NDRF is also in the process of purchasing an assortment of tools like pulleys, ropes, carabiners and harness among other tools to be used for transporting the salvager and evacuating stranded people from the car hanging in the air.
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