At about 9.30pm on Thursday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was back at her residence after a day in Parliament when she received an urgent call from Dunya Maumoon, her counterpart in Maldives. Maumoon had an unusual request — drinking water for her island nation’s capital.
The only water desalination in Male, home to over a lakh of people, had caught fire and had to be shut down. And Maumoon had decided to turn to Swaraj with whom she had developed a good rapport — they had met just last week at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu.
Within the next 90 minutes, sources said, Swaraj had obtained the green signal from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and set in motion a rare logistical operation — involving the PMO, Cabinet Secretariat, MEA, Indian High Commissioner in Maldives Rajeev Shahare and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh — to ferry drinking water to Male on IAF planes and Navy ships.
According to sources, the IAF was alerted 12.48 am that night and the first transport aircraft took off from Delhi at 7.30 am on Friday. It landed in Thiruvananthapuram, picked up tonnes of water bottles, and reached Male at 1.55 pm that afternoon.
This was followed by a C- 17 aircraft that left Palam with more bottles of water at 3.30 pm, and another at 5 pm. By Friday evening, two Il-76 aircraft were lined up with the precious cargo for the four-hour trip later in the night.
In total, five sorties were flown carrying 200 tonnes of water on Friday, and another 200 tonnes of water will be flown on Saturday through five sorties.
The Navy, meanwhile, dispatched two ships – INS Sukanya and INS Deepak – to Male.
INS Sukanya, a patrol vessel that had been deployed off Kochi, was diverted to help Maldivian authorities tide over the crisis. Apart from 35 tonnes of fresh water onboard, INS Sukanya has two Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants that can produce 20 tonnes of fresh water per day.
INS Deepak, a tanker vessel, was sent from Mumbai and is scheduled to reach Maldives by Saturday night with 800 tonnes of water.
“This is a help to a friendly neighbour in its hour of need,” said an MEA spokesperson.
“Mindful of the strong, friendly and close relations between India and the Maldives, India reacted with alacrity and promptness to the request from the Maldives for timely provision of water,” the Indian High Commission in Male said.