Institutionalizing Military Role in Disasters – the subterfuge
Personnel carrying a stranded person brought from an IAF helicopter at Kathmandu airport to a safer place following a massive earthquake in Nepal.
In a perspective, war is an unnatural disaster which the Armed forces are the first and last respondent. With no one to fall back on they might as well make a good job of it!
Four days into the Nepal quake and write ups in media started emerging about how the Armed Forces should handle disasters in future. An Op-Ed in a prominent national daily called for the role of the military to be institutionalized in disaster relief. Then one began reading some enlightened authors recommending that since conventional wars are things of the past, disaster relief should be one of the “primary” tasks for the military.
…even today little attention is being given to build specialization in the NDRF against handling disasters…
Some even went to the extent of recommending that the Army (mercifully the Air Force and the Navy were not been mentioned) should develop core competency in disaster relief by carrying out specialized training, procuring specialist equipment and create appointments for the new role, interact with NDMA and other agencies to map disaster relief assistance required in its areas of responsibility to create specialist nodes, amalgamation the effort at Centre and state level to develop an effective response strategy, so on and so forth. So one may envisage a Directorate General of Disaster Relief somewhere in Army Headquarters and related appointments down the line at Command, Corps, Division levels at least, if not beyond down to Brigades.
But this apart, one wonders whether all this can be attributed to the utter lack of strategic sense, ignorance to the existing procedures for disaster response at the national-cum-military levels, the state of the military equipping, state of paucity of platforms for military training, or are all these write ups appearing as part of a subtle subterfuge to divert the military from its primary role of defending the nation against threats that are increasing by the day. Besides, why have crores of rupees been spent on the NDMA and the NDRF, which can hardly be short of funds being directly under the Prime Minister?
It may surprise many that what is being injected for public perception building was discussed in-house in the Army by a previous Army Chief. The discussion spanned all the aspects mentioned above including procurement of specialized disaster relief equipment and the like. But a thorough dispassionate analysis arrived at the conclusion was that there was no need to institutionalize the Army’s role in disaster management, diverting it from its primary role. At the same time, the Army would continue to provide disaster assistance to the maximum extent as hitherto fore.
Sure the NDMA resources can never match the military resources but that does not mean the military should have disaster relief as its primary task.
Apparently, the Army Chief would have discussed these deliberations with the then government and it needs no guesses that this would have been the primary reason for creating the NDMA. If we have gone slow in building the capacity of the NDMA, it is because of lack of professional manning, which the current government is trying to somewhat rectify. That politics has been the bane of India was apparent with the previous dispensation installing a bollywood star as Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Defence, who besides being clueless about defence didn’t have the patience to sit through whole briefings.
However, even today little attention is being given to build specialization in the NDRF against handling disasters post use of dirty bombs by terrorists, which is very much on the cards. Sure the NDMA resources can never match the military resources but that does not mean the military should have disaster relief as its primary task.
Disasters relief is not new to India, before the recent relief operations in Nepal, India had also earned kudos for providing massive relief at home and abroad during the Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami disaster of 2004, and even during the 2008 tsunami. The relief operations in 2004 required close coordination with several foreign countries and organizations. The list of natural disasters within India is known and spans earthquakes, floods, landslides, cyclones and the like.
In all cases, the Crisis Management Committee meets in the Interim National Command Post under Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff and has representation of the military and all concerned ministries and organizations. A 24×7 operations room is established for planning and providing relief optimizing national resources, coordinating, monitoring, and keeping the political authority informed of the developments, all till the relief operations are over. The DCIDS (Operations) of HQ IDS oversees the relief in conjunction his counterparts in the other Services, while representatives of the three Services also participate in all the deliberations and activities.
We have a live situation where China has formally firmed into Gilgit-Baltistan area and is making every effort to edge westward in eastern Ladakh to close the intervening gap.
As far as the premise that conventional wars are thing of the past and therefore disaster relief should be primary role of the military, particularly the army, nothing could be more naïve. Windows for conventional conflict are certainly alive in the Subcontinent, no matter how small because of international pressure, which in any case a country like China does not bother about. We have a live situation where China has formally firmed into Gilgit-Baltistan area and is making every effort to edge westward in eastern Ladakh to close the intervening gap.
Would it not be equally naïve to not notice that China’s Silk Route and Belt ignores India , and China’s Maritime Silk Road oriented towards ASEAN will pass through Myanmar and at best ‘may’ link Calcutta in India, that too because China wants to integrate Bangladesh in its strategic game and aims to drive a wedge through northeast India to the India Ocean (whatever the timeframe, with or without a favourable dispensation in Bangladesh), that being the reason behind putting out a malicious and illegal claim to entire Arunachal Pradesh comprising 90,000 sq kms of India territory as late as 2005, and the claim to Doklam Plateau in Bhutan adjacent to the Siliguri Corridor.
Then we also have a Pakistan obsessed with Kashmir and possible maverick actions should her military feel the need to divert attention if stability becomes unmanageable. These are possibilities that cannot be wished away and it is precisely ignoring them that our border infrastructure is in such pathetic state and while the MHA has palmed off the Maoist insurgency spanning multiple states to be dealt with by individual states, MHA continues to be in-charge of national borders – even sensitive areas like Depsang and Chumar, much to the glee of our adversaries.
It is also quite surprising that while we have authors completely ruling out windows of conventional conflicts, they are silent on the sub-conventional threat building up at terrific pace and India’s lack of response to the same other than sterile diplomacy. For example, look at the way Maldives with over 1000 islands has been systematically radicalized using the LeT which is a proxy of both Pakistan and China.
Post the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Indonesia undertook a three day anti-terrorism drill involving the complete nation. Have we ever thought on those lines?
Why are our strategist scholars quiet about Chinese intelligence orchestrating the “United National Liberation Front of West South East Asia” through a meeting in Myanmar in March 2015; new unified front of nine militant groups of northeast India including the NSCN-Khaplang and the ULFA faction led by Paresh Baruah, and the fact that China has been sheltering Paresh Barua on her own soil at Ruli past several months. Should such threats and the response mechanism required not be what our strategists should be giving precedence rather than professing institutionalizing the military’s role in disaster relief, which in any case the military is doing?
Then is this business of military training in conjunction NDMA, procurement of specialist equipment and the like? Yes, training exercises are good but where and at what level are these to be organized. What assessment of disaster relief are we talking about? For example, if 80 percent of buildings in Delhi are not safe against earthquakes, what exercise are we talking about? The type of aftershocks received in Delhi in conjunction the Nepal quakes are experienced every week in Tokyo. All schools have regular earthquake drills and individual houses have emergency equipment packages consisting helmets, ropes, torches, first aid bandages and the like. Are we doing any thinking on those lines?
Post the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Indonesia undertook a three day anti-terrorism drill involving the complete nation. Have we ever thought on those lines? Can an anti-terrorism exercise combine with civil defence and disaster relief? As regards disaster relief, have we not had enough on job training during actual disaster relief including in the recent Operation ‘Maitri”.
So, don’t profess that the Army should buy more specialized disaster relief equipment over and above the combat equipment it holds and can be used for such purpose.
As regards the specialized equipment, why are these nodes not organized by the NDMA in conjunction the States? Why can’t the States also create such equipment reserves themselves? Post the leak of a serving Army Chief’s letter to the then Prime Minster, it was assessed that the accumulated equipment and ammunition shortages of the Army alone were standing at an incredible Rupees 1,41,000 crores.
No worthwhile artillery or air defence equipment had been procured for decades and infantry was without modern and adequate weapons, night vision, surveillance equipment, communications or even bullet proof vests in adequate numbers. Rest assured nothing much would have changed over the past three years. So, don’t profess that the Army should buy more specialized disaster relief equipment over and above the combat equipment it holds and can be used for such purpose.
Procurement of additional specialized disaster relief equipment and its placement should be the task of the NDMA. Attention also needs to be given to the military’s air effort used for disaster relief / other civilian tasks and the consequent cut on flying hours for training in airborne and heliborne operations for army units. This is generally glossed over but has huge impact on training.
The bottom-line is that there is no requirement to ‘institutionalize’ the role of Armed Forces in disaster relief and putting this as the primary task. They are doing a wonderful job in disaster relief and will continue to do so in future.