A Helping Hand: Indian Military’s Relief and Rescue Operations
The Indian Armed Forces, the second-largest military force in the world, is a primary source of pride for every Indian citizen. Time and again, the Indian soldiers have proven that their bravery is indeed unparalleled. The soldiers are known not only for their valor, but also for their sensitivity to people around them and the helping hand that they are always ready to extend in the time of a crisis. Be it a flood, tsunami, earthquake or any other natural disaster, within India or in our neighboring countries, it is the Indian Armed Forces who are beckoned for help when things go south. Each time, the brave hearts step in, fearless, lionhearted and intrepid, rescuing and saving people in distress. Our Armed Forces redefine patriotism every time through their acts of bravery. Here are some of the many rescue operations that the Indian Army participated in along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, which are sure to fill your hearts with a sense of pride and even more respect for our men and women in uniform.
OPERATION SURYA HOPE
The Uttarakhand floods in 2013 were caused by record nonseasonal monsoon rains, cloud bursts, flash floods and glacier lake outburst floods induced by climate change. Experts also agree that the magnitude of the disaster caused by the June 2013 floods reached great heights owing to the unabated illegal construction on river floodplains and the government's relentless pursuit of hydro power projects. This humanitarian disaster affected millions, stranded over 100,000 pilgrims and tourists in Himalayan religious sites and killed several thousand people. In response to this disaster, the Indian Army conducted Operation Surya Hope. The Operation was conducted by the Indian Army's Lucknow based Central Command. The emblem of the Central Command happens to be Surya (the Sun) and features prominently on the Command formation sign and flag which could have been a predominant reason for naming the Operation thus. Operation Surya Hope was commanded by Lieutenant General Anil Chait, General Officer Commanding in Chief, Central Command. Over 10,000 troops participated in Operation Surya Hope. The Army's disaster response units included infantry battalions, Army Service Corps units to provide logistic and supply support, signals regiment, engineer regiments, advanced dressing stations and other medical units, special forces, specialised mountain troops, paratroopers and army aviation corps assets. The Army wasn’t the sole fighter- they were joined by the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, assisted by the Border Road Organization and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). The Navy's marine commandos (Marcos), were deployed to Rudraprayag and Rishikesh, for rescue and search missions.
For relief and rescue operations, the Army divided the affected areas into four axes. The Army's response plan consisted of three broad phases. Phase One was conducted from 19–20 June, Phase Two from 21–22 June and Phase 3 continued from June 3 onwards. Indian Army air-lifted hygiene and sanitation stores and chemicals, blankets, food packets and medicines. The Army inducted 12 medical teams and set up an emergency medical helpline. Additionally, about 600 stranded civilians were given access to Army communications so that they could contact their families. As on 26 June, 2013, the Operation delivered 24 tons of food, fuel, medicines, blankets and relief material and evacuated 33,000 people, including 2715 by thirteen helicopters of the Army Aviation Corps, which clocked over 600 sorties. 85 persons were rescued by the Army foot patrol in Dharchula area of Uttarakhand which was the worst affected. Officials later confirmed that the disaster cost 580 lives, 5,748 people were reported missing and a total of 108,653 people were evacuated from affected areas by air and foot.
In 2018, Kerala was struck with torrential rains for the third consecutive year. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a red alert for the Wayanad and Idukki districts, and placed six others on orange alert. The floods that devastated Kerala in August 2018, following unprecedented heavy monsoon rain, were among the five major extreme flooding events in the world between 2015 and 2019. The Indian Army was once again at the forefront of relief operations in flood-hit Kerala. The Army's relief and rescue skills were once again tested when it constructed a bridge over a washed away road in the flood-ravaged town of Wandoor. Troops used local resources such as trunks and branches of fallen trees to help the local people complete the washed-away bridge. Karnataka and Kerala Sub area Headquartered at Bangalore was controlling the “Operation Sahyog” in Kerala. It deployed a total of eight columns of army personnel in various parts of Kerala in which two columns were exclusively kept for the worst-hit Idukki district. In addition, 80 army personnel from Madras Regiment were deployed for ongoing rescue and relief operations for tourists at Pallivasal in Idukki. Meanwhile, the Indian Navy also launched Operation Madad for major rescue and relief operations in flood-hit Kerala. Under this Operation, Naval helicopters were deployed for ferrying divers, power tools, axes and relief material to flooded areas to expand the ongoing relief operations. A 50-men contingent was also positioned at the Naval Armament Depot (NAD) at Aluva, fully equipped for assistance in any kind of eventuality. The Naval Hospital, INHS Sanjivani was equipped to render medical assistance to the affected in a quick and effective manner. Additionally, Naval personnel from INS Venduruthy, the headquarters of the Southern Naval Command, set up a community kitchen to feed and nurse the affected people of the State. Through the torrential rain, attempts were made to reach the victims via helicopters and Gemini boats. Southern Naval Command deployed 21 rescue and diving teams. As many as 1342 people were rescued by the coast guard and over 4250 people were guided to safer locations.
On 30th November 2017, the Indian Meteorological Department issued a cyclone alert for Lakshadweep islands, confirming that the depression in the Bay of Bengal had taken the form of a cyclonic storm called Cyclone Ockhi, about 60 km from the southern tip of Tamil Nadu and that it was likely to intensify. The alert further said that the cyclone could also pose a threat to the districts in South Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Apart from this, the weather office also predicted dense fog in places in Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura. On 05th December 2017, the P8I aircraft carrying out surveillance detected fishing vessel St Damian drifting away at 180 miles Northwest of Kavaratti and directed INS Chennai to provide assistance. The 13-member crew were taken onboard INS Chennai by the next morning and provided with food, water and medical aid. INS Kalpeni embarked six local fishermen from Kochi and INS Kabra embarked two fishermen from Kollam to join the ongoing Search and Rescue efforts and to facilitate guided search for missing fishing vessels, based on specific inputs provided by fishermen. Meanwhile INS Jamuna positioned at Kavaratti provided 12000 litres of fresh water as requested by Lakshadweep administration. INS Sharda then embarked with materials including 2000 litres of fresh water, medicines, food, emergency lights, petrol, portable 10 KVA power generators, tool kits etc. Minicoy, which was the most devastated island, was slowly returning to normalcy with the naval contingent present there actively involving themselves in activities such as clearing of roads, cutting of fallen trees, distribution of rations to villagers and more. The swift and timely action of the Indian Navy had successfully provided assistance to 187 persons at sea, besides saving 148 lives and had undertaken the evacuation of three bodies from deep sea. All search and rescue activities were conducted in coordination with central agencies. ‘OP Sahayam’ of Southern Naval Command continued for 11 days, till 9th December 2017 over Southeast Arabian Sea and Lakshadweep islands. 9 ships continued the search operations. Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft P8I searched over the entire Maldives region. INS Subhadra, another naval vessel under routine deployment, identified twelve crew members onboard two fishing vessels Milkyas & Felaxia, registered in Tamil Nadu, about 90 miles Northwest of Bitra island. The ship, in its further search encountered two capsized fishing vessels but with no survivors onboard. Over 4,00,000 square miles had been searched and sanitized by Indian Naval assets during the Operation.
These are just a few of the several calamities that have, time and again, reminded us of the fragility of human life. But even in the midst of this chaos, the Indian Military and other Rescue organizations have safeguarded these lives and reduced the magnitude of death and destruction by a huge margin. The rapidity of their response, the effectiveness of their operations and their swift attempts to restore normalcy have enabled Disaster and Rescue operational units to undertake their task with greater ease. All in all, this serves as a poignant reminder that if the Military can wield a gun for the country, it can also lend a firm hand to its countrymen in times of need.