As the Army moves in to take over the COVID-19 quarantine facility at Narela in Delhi, the procedure for calling the armed forces to help the civil administration is in the spotlight.
What is the procedure?
The regulations permit civil authorities to requisition the Army for controlling law and order, maintaining essential services, assisting during natural calamities such as earthquakes, and any other type of help that may be needed by the civil authorities. The procedure for requisitioning armed forces is governed under ‘Aid to Civil Authorities’ under the guidelines laid in Instructions on Aid to the Civil Authorities by the Armed Forces, 1970; Regulations for the Army, Chapter VII, Paragraphs 301 to 327; and Manual of Indian Military Law, Chapter VII. Civil administration requests the Local Military Authority for assistance, for the maintenance of law and order, maintenance of essential services, disaster relief and other types of assistance. Armed forces can be asked to provide troops and equipment for a flag march, rescue and relief, evacuation, and immediate aid.
The current case of checking the spread of COVID-19 is different, as the medical aspect is predominant. These resources are being controlled centrally and judiciously, because of the requirement of doctors, equipment and facilities.
What are the tasks expected to be performed in the current situation?
Besides the specialised medical resources, which are centrally controlled, the local units are prepared for maintenance of law and order, crowd control, curfew in sensitive areas, evacuation of civilians from affected areas, provision of essential supply of electricity and water, restoration of essential services, emergency feeding and shelter, prevention of panic, prevention of theft and loot, guarding quarantine locations and detention centres, surveillance through drones aerial platforms, and other miscellaneous tasks.
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In such situations, what happens to the armed forces’ primary role?
Providing aid to civil authorities, as and when called upon to do so, is a secondary task for the armed forces. It cannot replace the primary role of ensuring external security and operational preparedness. The Army recently killed five militants on the Line of Control (LoC), foiling an infiltration attempt, while losing five Special Forces soldiers in the engagement. There have been 53 ceasefire violations on the LoC which the Army has responded to. The Navy also continues to be operational on its various mission-based deployments, while taking all the precautions to prevent infection from foreign ports.
Is there a ceiling on such deployment?
No, there is no such ceiling either of duration of deployment or on the number of armed forces personnel that can be deployed to aid civil authority. The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), headed by the cabinet secretary, is the final authority.
Are there any templates or instances from the past that are applicable here?
The current situation is different from earlier cases such as tsunami or super-cyclone, which were natural disasters. The major difference is that specialists are the key in the current situation, and their tasks cannot be performed by general duty soldiers.
Who pays for the costs incurred by the armed forces in these roles?
The civil administration. The cost of assistance provided by the Armed Forces is recovered in accordance with the instructions contained in Appendix ‘H’ to the Pamphlet ‘Instructions on Aid to Civil Authorities by the Armed Forces 1970’. These instructions are also contained in the ADGFP letter No 9367/Reports/GS/FP2 dated 11 Jul 1994.
What is the role of the National Disaster Management Authority?
NDMA is involved in secondary follow-ups by the Home Ministry, and is not very actively involved in the current case. The roles of the Ministries of Health, Home, Civil Aviation and Defence are predominant in this case. The armed forces are aligned with them at the apex level viz NCMC. The directions are followed by execution-level coordination which is done by respective secretaries in the government.
What Armed Forces have done so far
– 6 quarantine facilities in Mumbai, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Hindon, Manesar and Chennai. Over 1,700 persons have been kept at these centres so far, of whom over 400 have been released. Three positive cases were referred to a hospital.
– 15 other facilities on standby, capacity of approximately 7,000. The Army runs 6 (Babina, Jhansi, Barmer, Bhopal, Kolkata, Binnaguri), IAF another 6 (Bhatinda, Hyderabad, Deolali, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Agra), the Navy 3 (Vizagapatam, Kochi, Chilka).
– 51 armed forces hospitals are preparing dedicated COVID-19 facilities including High Dependency Units (scaled-down version of an Intensive Care Unit), and ICU beds.
– 5 testing labs at armed forces hospitals made part of national grid. These are Army Hospital (Research & Referral), Delhi Cantt; Air Force Command Hospital, Bangalore; AFMC, Pune; Command Hospital (Central Command), Lucknow; and Command Hospital (Northern Command), Udhampur. Six more hospitals to be equipped with the resources to begin COVID-19 testing.
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– Special IAF flights have evacuated people and carried medical supplies. A C-17 Globemaster III has carried 15 tonnes of supplies to China and airlifted 125 persons including Indians on its return. From Iran, it brought back 58 stranded Indians. Also, C-130J Super Hercules aircraft has ferried 6.2 tonnes of medicine to Maldives. An Army Medical Corps team was deployed in Maldives between March 13-21.
– 60 tonnes of stores airlifted by IAF transport fleet has airlifted approximately to various parts of the country. Twenty-eight fixed wing and 21 helicopters are on standby.
– 6 Naval ships kept ready for assistance to neighbouring countries. Five medical teams also on standby for deployment in Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan.
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