Home Operation Maitri: Need For Institutionalized Role Of Armed Forces In Disaster Management

Operation Maitri: Need For Institutionalized Role Of Armed Forces In Disaster Management

Abstract: Army formations are always the first responder in disaster relief. Given their regular deployment, army needs to develop core competency in disaster management by carrying out specialized training, procuring specialist equipment and creating appointments for the new role. It must interact with NDMA and other agencies to map disaster relief assistance required in its areas of responsibility to create specialist nodes. Amalgamation of effort has to take place at Centre and state level to develop an effective response strategy.

The first Globemaster aircraft lifted off within four hours of the earthquake, carrying first batch of relief material and rescue teams to Nepal. The speed of the rescue showcased Indian armed forces’ capability for quick reaction and a strong political will to provide humane assistance to friendly neighbouring countries. Within hours, the foot component of army’s relief columns were moving in and working in tandem with the Nepalese Army to assist in rescue efforts. In coordination and listing of priority by the Nepalese Army, two control centres were established at Kathmandu and Barpak. 18 medical teams were functional within 48 hours equipped with mobile detachments for medical cover. Engineer task forces with heavy duty road opening equipment had re-established road communication between Kathmandu and Pokhara. An Indian Army expedition team located at Everest Base Camp assisted in evacuation and rendering medical aid to the needy. A helicopter base comprising of ALH and Cheetah helicopters became functional at Pokhara for search and rescue operations in the affected areas. INMARSAT and High Frequency radio sets were used to establish communication to far flung areas and coordinate relief effort. In addition, relief bricks comprising of blankets, tents and other supporting equipment was inducted for establishing temporary relief camps. 

Operation Maitri is the largest relief and rescue mission undertaken by India outside its own borders. The 7.9 magnitude earthquake has caused widespread devastation with over 7000 deaths and thousands rendered homeless. The quick response by India has saved precious lives and re-confirmed functionality of India’s response strategy mechanism.

The Indian Army has been involved in three disaster management missions in the last two years. It had deployed over 11,000 troops in Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir floods in 2013 and 2014. It has always been the first responder in case of any natural or manmade calamity due to its quick and proficient response, disciplined workforce and quality training. Being first respondents, it needs to pay greater emphasis on the immediate requirements in the disaster zone in order to respond effectively. Though conventional war will always be the focal point of army training, its incidence is low in the present geo-strategic environment and the army can also develop proficiency in disaster management. The focus or re-orientation must be based on a five point principle elucidated in succeeding paragraphs.

  • Disaster Management as a Primary Role. Given the regular involvement in flood relief and other disasters on a periodic basis, army formations need to be effectively equipped and trained for managing disasters. In the present training methodology and philosophy, that can only translate, if disaster management becomes a primary task. It will entail equipping, training and provision of specialist equipment for quick response. Also, it will involve creation of appointments at appropriate levels to focus exclusively on disaster management. The officers can then plan training of troops based on area of deployment, establish liaison with central and state government functionaries for a coordinated rescue effort and coordinate relief in a disaster situation.
  • Develop Core Competency   As army formations will always be requisitioned for assistance during disasters, the organisation must focus on developing specialisation in disaster management. It involves, firstly, identifying disaster prone areas in conjunction with NDMA and other nominated agencies and training required. Carrying analysis of previous employment to ascertain requirement of effort required, equipment including specialist equipment and its storage at selected locations. It will also obviate use of war stores for disaster management activities.
  • Training   Army formations must be equipped to handle all types of disasters and must carry out regular training based on disaster threat at least once a year including with other government agencies. Assistance of National Institute of Disaster management (NIDM) must be taken to provide vacancies in planned courses as well as to conduct specialist courses in the deployment areas. Selected officers must be sent abroad for specialist training in conjunction with MHA.  Short capsules can be co-opted in existing courses as an interim measure to increase proficiency of all ranks.
  • Developing Disaster Relief Nodes    The Disaster relief nodes must be developed based on geographical location of existing formation headquarters to create specialist centres for providing disaster relief. They can form part of national disaster relief plan to offset raising of any additional NDRF and SDRF units and to reduce response time in event of a disaster. Funds nominated for raising additional NDRF and SDRF units can be utilised to procure specialist equipment. Formations must be nominated for providing specialist relief cover in a geographical area. Specialist equipment must be procured and co-located with the units and personnel trained. Though disaster management is a MHA subject, army formations have to be amalgamated in the disaster response plan to provide funds for procuring equipment, training outlets and an institutionalised role in the disaster management structure.  
  • Information Centres   The silent warriors have done an excellent work in Nepal earthquake and during floods in Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir. Their efforts must be lauded. Past experience has shown that multiple agencies tend to provide their account of disaster relief and often the information becomes organisation specific. During the occurrence of a disaster, army authorities must establish information centres at New Delhi as well as disaster areas to provide details of relief and act as assistance points to coordinate relief for local population. Nominated spokesperson must share regular updates in electronic and print media to give accurate picture of the disaster relief and channelise assistance of the public. 

By all predictions the Indian sub-continent is likely to be inflicted with natural disasters at regular intervals, events necessitating swift response from the Indian Army.  While the army has been delivering unfailingly and efficiently to the calls of such emergency, what better way could be there to make it a focus area and be prepared even better for such catastrophes.

The author is Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal

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Ashwani Gupta
Former Senior Fellow
Contact at: [email protected]
India needs to develope high end expertise in disaster management. Indian army must be in forefront in this endeavour.
Hemendra Kaushik
Sir, I fully agree and appreciate that even thinking has started on these lines but there are some imp aspects which needs to consider:\r\n\r\n1. The disaster relief wrt to only Services is clear example of "Jointness" as basic consideration. Our all three wings are still struggling to achieve synergy and Jointness in their Conventional Roles, the devp of Disaster Mgt (DM) as Core competence will be a daunting task.\r\n\r\n2. The inventory purchased for the DM needs to be provisioned, procured, maint, refit, regular overhauled and later backloaded/discarded. The same is a challenging task in itself. I don't think the contradictory thought process of "reduce teeth to tail ratio" in Armed Forces along with devp the capability of DM as Core Competence goes hand in hand.\r\n\r\n3. It is a "Be prep" task today and needs reforms to convert it into "To" task in future.\r\n\r\nRegards
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