Forces’ to Rescue
The biggest ever operation launched to save the victims of Uttarakhand floods is an
example of military-Paramilitary coordination

IAF rescue helicopters at Gauchar airport in flood-hit Uttarakhand
IAF rescue helicopters at Gauchar airport in flood-hit Uttarakhand

Whether it’s the revenge of the mountains, the rage of the sea or over-abundance of the monsoons, whenever common citizens are caught on the wrong side of the nature, the Indian military and the paramilitary is always the first resort for rescue and relief. Despite the creation of gigantic and resource-sucking National Disaster Management Authority by the Act of Parliament in 2005, disaster management in India even today basically comprises three words: Call the army; with army being the omnibus for the uniformed personnel of all shades.

When a cloud-burst and torrential rain unleashed their fury on the unsuspecting residents, tourists and pilgrims from June 14-17, the first ground responder was the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which mounted a search and rescue operation on June 17, just as there was a slight let-up in the weather. It helped that ITBP has a substantial presence in the entire sector, starting from Rishikesh and going up to Gauchar, Joshimath and Auli. Moreover, as part of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), ITBP had in the last few years trained for disaster rescue and relief in the Himalayas. As a result, the force was able to access the remote areas faster. However, by June 18, when landslides started happening several sector such as Kedarnath-Badrinath, Jungle Chetti, Gaurikund etc, became inaccessible by road.

The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF) then joined in the rescue efforts. With the support of the IAF, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) also came in to commence the road restoration work in the areas affected by the landslide. Despite various obstacles and the bad weather, over the next few days, with the combined effort, the forces managed to make contact with all the areas that were cut off due to landslides. Several roads were operationalised and the rescue teams reached out to the stranded people.

The air operations picked up pace when the IAF established an aviation fuel supply bridge at Dharasu on June 22. With this availability of additional fuel, the helicopters were able to make more number of trips. By June 25, even the Indian Navy deployed its marine commandos.

However, despite the mammoth effort, which some list as the biggest rescue operation undertaken in recent times, tales of lack of coordination, personal grandstanding and abject unpreparedness have repeatedly surfaced, leaving a stink behind.
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