August 28, 2016 1:05:36 am
THERE were 35,000 Civil Defence volunteers in the records of the Maharashtra police. However, only 17 turned up to renew their positions after officials made their physical examination mandatory.
Weeks after it emerged that Civil Defence volunteers were being given a small sum to sign a muster declaring that they had received training even as funds for drills and training were being siphoned off, the officials of State Home Guards altered selection and renewal criteria for these volunteers.
It had also come to light that most of the volunteers were above 75 years of age and some had criminal antecedents.
“After the scam came to light, we altered the selection and renewal criteria. Last month, after the rules were tweaked, only 28 volunteers came forward for enrollment. Seventeen turned up in Mumbai and 11 in Pune. Of them, finally only one enrolled in Pune and two in Mumbai,” said an official.
Sources said the stricter rules by the department had led to only a few volunteers turning up for the renewal.
“In the past, we used to get applications that used to run into five to ten thousands but this time there were hardly any applications for renewal. In many of the centres in Mumbai and Pune, the response has been in single digits,” added the officials.
The Civil Defence volunteers form a part of State Home Guards and play a role in disaster management. With a national strength of 16 lakhs, the volunteer-based organisation helps out the administration during a prolonged disaster scenario.
However in Maharashtra, the voluntary Civil Defence force has been found to be mismanaged with people over the age of 75 years being retained as volunteers and officials siphoning off money in the name of training volunteers.
“A Civil Defence volunteer jumps into action during a fire, building collapse, or other calamities. For this, mock drills are carried out regularly. For training carried out for 10 days, a volunteer is paid Rs 450. If he is called for mock drills, he is paid Rs 150 per day,” said an official of the Maharashtra police.
Concerned at the mismanagement, the State Home Guards has now made it compulsory for applicants to be aged between 18 and 35 years, renewable till a maximum of 55 years of age.
The circular, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, also states that volunteers should get their police verification done.
“When we scrutinised our records we found that people above 75 years of age were volunteering for Civil Defence. How can a force that requires to be pressed during a time of contingency comprise of senior citizens? We, therefore, changed the rules and issued a fresh circular with a new set of rules. But the response has been abysmal,” said a source.
According to sources, a budget of over Rs 15 crore is allotted each year for Civil Defence by the government, of which at least Rs 2-3 crore is supposed to be spent on training.
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