In­dian Army in Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment

The role of the Army in dis­as­ter man­age­ment is as es­sen­tial to­day as it was ear­lier, i.e. be­fore the for­ma­tion of the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity. It con­tin­ues to be amongst the first re­spon­ders in a dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tion even be­fore the civil­ian

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral (Retd) V.K. Kapoor

THE UNIQUE GEO-CLI­MATIC CON­DI­TIONS of In­dia make it highly vul­ner­a­ble to nat­u­ral haz­ards. About 58 per cent of In­dia’s ge­o­graph­i­cal area is earth­quake prone. Sixty-eight per cent of the area is drought prone, 12 per cent is flood prone and eight per cent is prone to cy­clones. About one mil­lion houses are dam­aged an­nu­ally with ir­repara­ble losses. Thus there is a need to adopt a proac­tive ap­proach for preven­tion, mit­i­ga­tion and pre­pared­ness.

Vi­sion­ary Step

The Government of In­dia took a very vi­sion­ary step in De­cem­ber 2005 by mak­ing a per­ma­nent ar­range­ment to take care of the mul­ti­far­i­ous as­pects of dis­as­ter man­age­ment and to move away from a re­sponse-cen­tric ap­proach, which was the norm till 2005, and par­tially is even now, to a holis­tic pre­pared­ness, man­age­ment and mit­i­ga­tion-cen­tric ap­proach. At the na­tional level, the government has set up an author­ity un­der the Prime Min­is­ter, viz, the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity (NDMA) and sim­i­larly, in the states un­der the Chief Min­is­ter. Th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions at all lev­els, whether at the na­tional, state or district level, are sup­ported by the ex­ist­ing government ma­chin­ery. The Na­tional Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee (NEC) com­pris­ing 13 Sec­re­taries of the Government of In­dia as­sists NDMA in im­ple­ment­ing var­i­ous projects and is­sues. Sim­i­larly, in the states, all the Sec­re­taries as­sist the Chief Sec­re­tary. At the district level, the District Col­lec­tor leads the or­gan­i­sa­tion with the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple be­ing the Co-Chair­per­son to bring about a pub­lic-pri­vate in­ter­face at the func­tional level.

Multi-Dis­ci­plinary Process

Dis­as­ter man­age­ment is a multi-dis­ci­plinary process. All the Cen­tral min­istries and de­part­ments have a key role in as­sist­ing the apex body, the NDMA, in the dis­charge of its func­tions. The nodal min­istries and de­part­ments of the Government of In­dia in­clude the Min­istries of Home Af­fairs (MHA), Agri­cul­ture, Civil Avi­a­tion, En­vi­ron­ment and Forests, Health, Atomic En­ergy, Space, Earth Sciences, Water Re­sources, Mines, Rail­ways and so on. Th­ese agen­cies will con­tinue to ad­dress spe­cific dis­as­ters as as­signed to them. Fur­ther, the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs (MHA) acts as the ad­min­is­tra­tive min­istry for the sub­ject of dis­as­ter man­age­ment.

NDMA Act 2005

The NDMA Act lays down in­sti­tu­tional, le­gal, fi­nan­cial and co­or­di­na­tion mech­a­nisms at the Cen­tral, state, district and lo­cal lev­els. Th­ese in­sti­tu­tions are not par­al­lel struc­tures and will work in close har­mony. The new in­sti­tu­tional frame­work is meant to en­sure im­ple­men­ta­tion of the na­tional de­sire for a par­a­digm shift in dis­as­ter man­age­ment from a post-event and re­lief-cen­tric syn­drome to a regime that lays greater em­pha­sis on pre­pared­ness, preven­tion and mit­i­ga­tion, lead­ing to a more prompt and ef­fec­tive re­sponse to dis­as­ters.

The NDMA is man­dated as the apex body to co­or­di­nate the Cen­tral Government ef­forts in preven­tion, mit­i­ga­tion, pre­pared­ness, re­sponse, re­lief, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­con­struc­tion for adop­tion of a holis­tic and proac­tive ap­proach to the dis­as­ter man­age­ment. It will lay down poli­cies and guide­lines for dis­as­ter man­age­ment to as­sist Cen­tral min­istries, de­part­ments and states for draw­ing up their re­spec­tive plans. In or­der to trans­late the pol­icy ob­jec­tives into plans, the NDMA has adopted a mis­sion-mode ap­proach in­volv­ing a num­ber of ini­tia­tives with the help of var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions (ad­min­is­tra­tive, aca­demic, sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal) op­er­at­ing at na­tional, state and lo­cal lev­els. As a pol­icy, the Cen­tral Min­istries and de­part­ments and states, have been in­volved in de­vel­op­ing the guide­lines, be­sides all other stake­hold­ers. Th­ese guide­lines are based on an ex­haus­tive re­view of pre­vi­ous dis­as­ters and ac­tions taken by var­i­ous agen­cies in­clud­ing the Cen­tral Min­istries and de­part­ments, states, aca­demic, sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal in­sti­tu­tions and non-government or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) in the past and iden­ti­fy­ing the felt needs in re­la­tion to op­er­a­tional, ad­min­is­tra­tive, fi­nan­cial and le­gal gaps. The afore­men­tioned data of dis­as­ters in the past and themes (such as ca­pac­ity devel­op­ment and pub­lic aware­ness) pro­vide the ba­sis of prepa­ra­tion of fu­ture plans.

Fi­nan­cial Mech­a­nism and Ac­tiv­i­ties

The en­tire Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion has a fi­nan­cial mech­a­nism in the Cen­tre, known as Dis­as­ter Re­sponse Fund, which was ear­lier called Calamity Re­lief Fund. Now there is a per­ma­nent mech­a­nism to make sure that even small things, which have to be done on ground, can be ex­e­cuted quickly.

As far as the var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties of NDMA are con­cerned, the most im­por­tant is pre­pared­ness for dis­as­ters and for which the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Re­sponse Force (NDRF), the most vi­brant face of the NDMA, has been raised. There are eight bat­tal­ions in all, drawn from var­i­ous Cen­tral po­lice forces. Th­ese bat­tal­ions, with var­i­ous skills are lo­cated in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try based on the kind of dis­as­ter threats they are con­fronted with. One bat­tal­ion is lo­cated in Odisha, in the area of Cut­tack. As a mat­ter of fact, dur­ing the Kosi floods in Bi­har, this bat­tal­ion rescued over 1,00,000 peo­ple, out of the to­tal of about 2,50,000, who were evac­u­ated.

Role of Armed Forces

The Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Act 2005 is a vi­tal in­stru­ment which ex­plains the role and func­tions of var­i­ous es­tab­lish­ments. It is also a tool to bring in a sense of accountability and re­spon­si­bil­ity. How­ever, this act men­tions the “de­ploy­ment of naval, mil­i­tary and air forces, other armed forces of the Union or any other civil­ian per­son­nel as may be re­quired for the pur­poses of this Act” un­der the head­ing “Mea­sures by the Government for Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment”. There is no am­pli­fi­ca­tion or men­tion of the role of the armed forces with a view to of­fer le­gal sup­port and backup. The Act is sur­pris­ingly silent on the as­pect of as­sign­ing well-de­fined role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the armed forces.

The former Vice Chair­man of NDMA, Gen­eral (Retd) N.C. Vij, when asked specif­i­cally re­gard­ing the role of the armed forces said, “Con­cep­tu­ally, the In­dian armed forces are ex­pected to be called upon to in­ter­vene and take on spe­cific tasks, only when the sit­u­a­tion is be­yond the cop­ing ca­pa­bil­ity of the civil ad­min­is­tra­tion. In prac­tice, how­ever, the armed forces form the core of the government’s re­sponse ca­pac­ity and have be­come the cru­cial im­me­di­ate re­spon­ders in all se­ri­ous dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tions. Due to their vast po­ten­tial to meet any ad­verse chal­lenge, speed of op­er­a­tional re­sponse and the re­sources and ca­pa­bil­i­ties at their dis­posal, the armed forces have his­tor­i­cally played a ma­jor role in emer­gency sup­port func­tions. Th­ese in­clude com­mu­ni­ca­tions, search and res­cue op­er­a­tions, health and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties and trans­porta­tion, es­pe­cially in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of a dis­as­ter. The air and heli­copter lift and move­ment and as­sis­tance to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries pri­mar­ily fall within the ex­per­tise and do­main of the armed forces. The armed forces will also par­tic­i­pate in im­part­ing train­ing to train­ers and dis­as­ter man­age­ment man­agers, es­pe­cially in NBC as­pects, heli­copter in­ser­tion, high al­ti­tude res­cue, water­man­ship and train­ing of paramedics. At the na­tional level, the Chief of the In­te­grated De­fence Staff to the Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee (CISC) has al­ready been in­cluded in the Na­tional Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee (NEC). Sim­i­larly, at the state and district lev­els, the lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the armed forces will be in­cluded in their ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tees to en­sure closer co­or­di­na­tion and co­he­sion.”

Role of the Army

The role of the Army in dis­as­ter man­age­ment is as es­sen­tial to­day as it was ear­lier, i.e. be­fore the for­ma­tion of the NDMA. It con­tin­ues to be amongst the first re­spon­ders in a dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tion even be­fore the civil­ian re­sources have been de­ployed mostly by virtue of its lo­ca­tion in the en­tire coun­try, es­pe­cially in the far-flung bor­der ar­eas or even re­mote ar­eas. Re­cent ex­am­ples are of the floods in As­sam and Arunachal Pradesh in July 2012 in which the Army had to de­ploy 122 teams for res­cue and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Sim­i­larly, in Au­gust 2012, flood re­lief op­er­a­tions were con­ducted in Ut­tarak­hand and Mad­hya Pradesh. In Au­gust 2010, the Army spear­headed re­lief op­er­a­tions by clear­ing main sup­ply roads, restor­ing telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion links, evac­u­at­ing res­i­dents, es­tab­lish­ing re­lief camps and dis­tribut­ing aid.

The main point in favour of de­ploy­ing the Army units to re­spond to dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tions is that they are gen­er­ally avail­able in nearby ar­eas and do not need to re­struc­ture to deal with dis­as­ters. The present or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­tures are well suited to deal with dis­as­ters, both for the plan­ning and the ex­e­cu­tion stages. They also deal with dis­as­ters in the hin­ter­land to pro­vide aid to civil author­ity which is an im­por­tant sec­ondary role of the Army. They are so lo­cated as to cover al­most ev­ery state of the In­dian Union and de­pend­ing upon the na­ture of dis­as­ters, they may well be re­quired to be re­in­forced with com­bat units and staff for han­dling a par­tic­u­lar dis­as­ter. The area and sub-area com­man­ders form part of the state and district ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tees.

It can be said that a prag­matic role for the Army in dis­as­ter man­age­ment would be the one which is pri­mar­ily fo­cused to­wards search, res­cue and restora­tion op­er­a­tions.


While de­liv­er­ing the Field Mar­shal K.M. Cari­appa Me­mo­rial Lec­ture on “Army’s Con­tri­bu­tion to Na­tion Build­ing—The Way Ahead” on Oc­to­ber 12, 2012, the then Min­is­ter of State for De­fence Dr Pal­lam Raju had said the mil­i­tary virtues of sac­ri­fice, loy­alty and dis­ci­pline have al­ways re­mained and must serve as ob­jects of ven­er­a­tion for the rest of the na­tion. He went on to state that “the mil­i­tary has also al­ways played an in­ten­sive role in hu­man as­sis­tance and dis­as­ter re­lief in var­i­ous parts of the na­tion in the direst of cir­cum­stances and at all times…. The Ter­ri­to­rial Army has contributed im­mensely to the task of na­tion build­ing through the years. Th­ese bat­tal­ions have as­sisted in se­cur­ing vi­tal in­ter­ests in threat­ened re­gions. They have un­der­taken re­for­esta­tion ini­tia­tives and have trans­formed large swathes of land which had been rav­aged by nat­u­ral and man-made dis­as­ters”.


In­dian armed forces car­ry­ing out res­cue and re­lief op­er­a­tions in the

flood-af­fected ar­eas of Bi­har

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