Intro: India’s quick response to help Nepal is in step with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declared intention that the South Asian neighbours are his priority; true to his words, he has acted in time when situations arose.
India has rightly played its role as a friendly neighbour by reaching out to Nepal immediately after the terrible earthquake with an intensity of 7.8 on Richter scale struck the Himalayan nation. Indian teams for search and rescue operations reached Nepal earlier than the Chinese could send a 62-member team.
Eight million people have been affected by the massive earthquake in Nepal across 39 districts- more than a quarter of the country’s population—the United Nations says. The death toll has risen above 5,000 with another 11,440 injured, is revealed by Nepal’s National Emergency Coordination Centre.
For the rescue operation, India initially sent 10 teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), six additional teams were sent later. Each team consisting of 45 personnel who are fully equipped with modern equipment to deal with search and rescue operations. These teams have medical and para-medics experts and sniffer dogs and are well equipped with live detector machines, cutters that can cut steel, concrete and wood. Other than this food and immediate relief materials has also been sent from India.
On the other hand, the first batch of 62-member Chinese team that landed in Nepal has six sniffer dogs and relevant rescue and medical equipment. Out of the 62 members, 40 are from the 38th Group Army of the People’s Liberation Army, Beijing Military Area Command and have experiences in participating in international rescue missions.
It has been reported that at least 17 people are believed to have been killed on Everest, and 61 injured, by an avalanche which left mountaineers calling for helicopter assistance to evacuate the most badly wounded.
Meanwhile, China is also facing the same problem as India. An earthquake has struck southwest Tibet almost at the same time. But Indian earth scientists believe that this earthquake have a different epicenter from that in Nepal. The impact of the earthquake in Nepal was experienced in many states of north India including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan with casualties and damages at places. Tremors were also felt in Bangladesh.
Indian rescue teams have, however, the added advantage of reaching by land route. Despite the intermittent closure of Kathmandu airport, the Indian teams took the opportunity of safe landing at appropriate times and at other helipads.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has said the US will pledge $1m to the aid effort and will also assist with a disaster response team. Australia has also pledged a Aus$5m aid package, while India, Sri Lanka, the UK, China and others are all sending disaster response teams to assist in search and rescue
This is not the first time India reached out to an immediate neighbour in the hour of distress. Recently in December, last year, India transported over 1,000 tonne of fresh water and reverse osmosis facilities to Maldives when water crisis engulfed archipelago after fire broke out at the Maldives Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC). Both Indian Navy and Indian Air Force were pressed into the operations.
According to Indian earth scientists an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 on Richter scale occurred at 11.41 am IST (Indian Standard Time) on April 25 at a depth of 10 km with its epicenter located 77 km northwest of Kathmandu at Pokhara. The effects of this earthquake were severely felt in all northern and central parts of India including in the capital city of New Delhi. About 46 aftershocks of the intensity of 5 and above on Richter scale was felt in the entire affected region in two days after the initial occurrence. However the intensity seems to be tapering off. But Indian earth scientists have cautioned that the aftershocks will be felt in the coming days till the process of release of energy is completed.
Even though there are deaths, casualties and damages at home, India has taken up the onus of bailing out Nepal from the current crisis that has witnessed thousands of deaths (still unaccounted in numbers) and severe damage to property. After rescue operations rebuilding of Nepal will be another onus for India. Financial and logistical help are pouring into Nepal from other countries. Since in the present situation it is difficult for other countries and international agencies to reach Nepal, many have sought permissions for over flights.
Apart from rescue operations, Indian teams are engaged in evacuating thousands of trapped Indian nationals and tourists from other countries as well. This is a good humanitarian gesture. Similar humanitarian gesture that India made recently was evacuating other foreign nationals, particularly South Asians who were trapped in the recent crises in Iraq and Yemen.
NDRF has proved its competence in crisis management in most difficult situation. It is also aided by the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Sashastra Seema Bal–the force that guards India-Nepal border. Food and relief materials are being organised all over the country to help the Nepali victims. Indian Army has launched ‘Operation Maitri’- pressing into service 12 heavy-duty military aircraft and 18 helicopters besides opening up four land routes to connect to Kathmandu and Pokhara valley to reach out to the affected with men and material. The Army is also working with its own Gurkha ex-servicemen for guidance, relief and rescue. Apart from food and immediate relief materials, reverse osmosis plant for supplying water and oxygen cylinders are being supplied by the Indian Armed Forces.
Nepal was undergoing a political crisis after monarchy was replaced. The world was eagerly waiting for a quick transition to a republican democracy with a well drafted Constitution. But the process of drafting the Constitution was delayed due to the differences between political parties. The nation had to undergo elections to elect a second Constituent Assembly as the first one failed to produce a Constitution. The second Constituent Assembly also failed twice to meet its self-imposed deadlines. India has said that it would keep its hands off and let the Nepali people decide and draft its own Constitution through consensus.
It is a sorry state of affairs that while Nepal was struggling to come out its political crisis, a Himalayan tragedy struck the nation in the form of a terrible devastating earthquake. India, as a responsible neighbour cannot just be a spectator and therefore it has taken the right decision in right time and in right earnest to bail out the Nepali people out of this terrible tragedy. Providing relief and rescue operations will not just be enough for India as a neighbour. It should take up the proactive role in reconstruction of Nepal.
Ashok B Sharma (The writer is a senior columnist)