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Disasters and the role of Indian armed forces
Whenever a disaster strikes, be it natural or man-made, the Indian armed forces are called upon to handle the situation. They are always ready to move to any kind of disaster-affected areas and have the guts to work under adverse conditions
INDIA IS one of the most vulnerable nations in the world, susceptible to multiple natural disasters owing to its unique topographic and climatic conditions. Its coastal states, particularly the eastern coast and Gujarat are exposed to cyclones, 40 million hectares (eight per cent) of land mass is flood prone, 68 per cent faces drought threat, 55 per cent of the area is in seismic zones III-IV and falls under earthquakes-prone belt and sub-Himalayan region and Western Ghats are threatened by landslides. Moreover, India is increasingly getting susceptible to man-made disasters related to industrialisation, transportation, environmental degradation and terrorist attacks. Besides, there is no legal ratification either at the Union or the state governments level to deal with such disasters in comprehensive manner as the subject of disaster management is not specified under any of the three lists (Central, state and concurrent) of Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

The government of India is aware of the urgent need for better disaster response mechanism, but the overall trend in the nation has indicated that the level of preparedness of the Centre as well as the states is extremely uneven and requires considerable strengthening. Fortunately, the Centre and a number of states have displayed growing appreciation for the need of effective disaster management strategies. Of late, the nodal agency for coordination of relief, response and overall natural disaster management is positioned under the Union ministry of home affairs. However, when any disaster occurs in India, the armed forces under the ministry of defence is called upon to intervene and handle the situation.

As the development oriented Indian civil administration is ill equipped for undertaking disaster response activities in the event of major disasters, they merely rely on the armed forces. At the same time, the Indian armed forces, being one of the most dedicated, professional, modernised armed forces in the world with rapid strides in technology development, adequately equipped with the necessary technical competence, man power and material resources undertakes rescue and relief operations of any disasters. For instance, when tsunami occurred in December 2004, the Indian army, navy and the airforce coordinated by the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) efficiently executed the relief, rescue and evacuation assignments under Operation Sea Wave, and also extended aid to Sri Lanka and Maldives under Operation Rainbow and Operation Castor at the request of their respective governments for assistance. Whether the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, the cyclone in Bangladesh on 15 November 2007, the fire breakout at Burrabazar in Kolkata on January 12, 2008, or the recent serial blasts at Bangalore and Ahmedabad on July 2008, the role played by the Indian armed forces is commendable.

Above and beyond its primary role, i.e. to defend the nation against any external aggression the Indian armed forces are inevitably involved in securing the country from diverse unconventional fronts. They are always in the state of operational readiness to move to any kind of disaster-affected areas and have the daring to work under adverse ground and climatic conditions, which is of immense help in assisting the civil authority during disasters. Their performance in rescue and response action after disasters has been exemplary and with the ever increasing frequency of disasters in the SouthAsian region, they will continue to play a vital role in the years to come.

Furthermore, in spite of the disaster rescue and relief responsibilities, there is need for decisive modus operandi for operational coordination between the civil administration and the armed forces. Since, the armed forces’ effective response depends on immediate information made available by the state administration, delay in information has often caused loss of precious time due to lack of proper communication and coordination with the civil authority and concern for loss of lives. In this regard, the state institutions must appreciate the operational line of action in which the armed forces function. The armed forces’ professional ethics are autonomous in character and do not encourage civil interference. At the same time, the armed forces need to acknowledge that the source of primary information for disaster response lies with the state. As disaster management plan should incorporate the role expected of the armed forces so that the procedure for deploying them is well-organised, there is a need to encompass an interface personnel correlation between the state government and the armed forces for immediate effective delivery of relief to the victims affected by disasters.
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