Oil’s the Way

TA keeps the relief work going in times of national calamity

When insurgency reared its violent head in Assam in the mid-Seventies, it took the government unawares in many ways. The political, military and social ramifications apart, the problem led to an economic crisis of sorts. Early on the militants realised the critical significance of oil and carried out something akin to oil blockades. The pipelines were blown up, the refineries were attacked and the workers in the oil installations troubled. Things had come to such a head that the government was forced to import crude to meet the everyday demand and the Haldia sector in West Bengal was overwhelmed with increased pressure as the Assam sector was blocked. Finally, Operation Rhino was launched, army was called not only to fight the insurgents but also to ensure that the wheels of the nation remained well-oiled. Along with the engineers, the army successfully managed to restart the oil pipelines.

Among the various fall-outs of this was the realisation that an oil crisis of this magnitude must never occur again. By early Eighties the government was more or less clear and in 1983, three units of departmental TA for the oil sector were raised. 414 ASC Battalion Marketing (TA) for ensuring the logistics and uninterrupted supply of oil; 811 Engineers Regiment ONGC (TA) for the secure functioning of the rigs and other oil facilities and 801 Engineers Regiment R&P (TA) for safeguarding the refineries. While the oil sector TAs work on the principal of temporariness, that is, except for the annual two-month ATC they are embodied only in times of national crisis, the ONGC TA is different in the sense that it has lent a degree of permanence to its cadre. The members of ONGC TA are posted in strife-torn areas such as Assam to ensure smooth functioning of its installations there.

“The oil sector TAs are more militarised than other departmental TAs,” says Subir Raha, CMD, ONGC, who retired from 414 ASC Battalion Marketing (TA) in 2002. “Their role is to ensure oil production, running of refineries and smooth distribution.” Each battalion has a total strength of 400 of which one-third are the regular army personnel, officers and men including. The rest are officials from the ONGC, IOC, BPCL and HPCL. On recruitment, all officers go for a 30-day induction training programme to their regimental centre which is followed by 30-day post-commission training. During their embodiment, the TA personnel draw the salary and benefits of the regular army. Apart from the usual physical routine, the oil sector TA men and officers are also given weapons training. “In my time, we had the usual carbines, sten guns and rifles, but now they have Self-Loading Rifles and LMGs as well,” says Raha. The reason behind this is that the role of the TA here is largely defensive and hence they need to be comfortable with weapons. “We are operating in disturbed areas, like the Northeast. If we are not able to defend ourselves, our installations and our people then what is the point of being in the TA,” says Raha.

The officers get commissioned as second lieutenants. While the commanding officer and the adjutant are always regular army officers, the second-in-command is a TA person who can rise only to the rank of a major. All TA personnel on commission are required to serve tenure of nine years, after which if they wish they can reenlist themselves and serve another tenure of the same duration, but without a change in their rank. The numbers of companies depend upon the battalion and its tasking. While the ONGC TA has three companies, ASC TA has two — an operation’s and an aviation company, which is tasked with the job of rushing to the airport and ensuring undisturbed refuelling of the aircraft in case of any disruption or a crisis.

Since their raisings nearly two decades ago, the oil sector TAs has played a crucial role in times of natural calamities. “When everything breaks down, which happens in the case of earthquakes and cyclones, the most important thing is to ensure that relief reaches the victims,” says Raha. “Here the role of the oil sector TA becomes very crucial. We have to restart storage points for fuel so that the supply trucks get their petrol or diesel regularly. We also have to make sure that kerosene reaches the victims in remote and sometimes completely cut-off areas because in the event of the breakdown of basic facilities, it becomes the lifeline. And when men in uniform reach the victims, they feel reassured.”

Given the unpredictability of nature, it is unlikely that the oil sector TA will ever run out of its utility. They seem to be the force-multipliers without which major rescue missions can get stalled.


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