Friday , September 23 , 2011
Disaster team drain on army
New Delhi, Sept. 22: The army in Sikkim is fed up with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) because its personnel are not only unfit for rescue and relief work but also a drain on the military’s resources.
Army officers are wary of speaking out in public on the difficulties of helping the NDRF — which they have been asked to by the home ministry — but it takes little for them to vent their ire in private.
“They (the NDRF) do not have any administrative support and they are eating into ours. They should remain in Delhi and Gurgaon to rescue cats from high-rises,” an angry officer said.
Officers on the ground have been constantly complaining to their superiors and higher headquarters on the demands being made by the NDRF.
“This is a time for all able people to get down on the ground with pickaxes and shovels but these NDRF personnel are not fit enough to walk 1,500 feet downhill and then 800 feet uphill,” one officer said.
Deployment in the Himalayan state demands acclimatisation and high-energy levels that are not ordinarily required in the plains. The 10 NDRF teams, of about 400 personnel, were flown in by the Indian Air Force’s newly acquired Super Hercules C-130J aircraft from Delhi and Calcutta.
For nearly two days they were stranded in Bagdogra and Siliguri waiting for army engineers to clear the road to Gangtok after Sunday evening’s quake.
The army was also asked to dedicate three helicopters to the NDRF, an order that it has grudgingly accepted.
“This is the time for all available resources to be put to the best use. But we have had to give them these helicopters and they are still in ‘recce mode’ while we are desperately looking for more for casualty evacuation and to fly in resources,” another officer said.
Sikkim is in the army’s Sukna-headquartered 33 Corps area of responsibility. The Corps has three divisions — 27 (headquartered in Kalimpong), 17 (Gangtok) and 20 (Binaguri). All three are mountain divisions with their soldiers acclimatised or acclimatising for deployment in high-altitude positions.
Many of the army posts along the 250-odd kilometre frontage with China in North and East Sikkim are still not physically accessible.
But there are nearly 6,000 troops whose main task now is to clear roads because the deployment for “border management” (a defensive posture) does not require all resources to be posted at the front.
The army has been deployed across Sikkim for 40 years and along with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were the first responders to the quake.
An officer complained that not only has the NDRF been given dedicated helicopters, its officers also demand to be guided by the army.
The NDRF is a young force, formed after the 2004 tsunami. Ironically, former army chief, General (retired) Nirmal Chandra Vij heads the National Disaster Management Authority.
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