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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Indian Air Force sets new record in saving lives and flying sorties

We would have to try hard to forget the disaster in Uttarakhand in June 2013 caused by heavy rainfall triggering devastating floods, landslides, eruption of Mandakini and melting of Chorabari Glacier leading to heavy loss of life.   The inclement weather, damage to bridges and roads lefts thousands stranded at various places ~ many of whom were rescued by the heroic efforts of our armed forces and few voluntary organizations.  The mammoth rescue operation undertaken by several agencies on a war footing concluded on Tuesday with defence forces and the ITBP picking up the last batch of 150 people from Badrinath axis. This now leaves Uttarakhand government with other challenging tasks to fish out hundreds of rotting bodies from sites of landslide and reach out with ration and relief material to local people stranded in villages spread across Tehri, Pauri, Chamoli and Kumaon regions.

Indian Army and Indian Air Force did commendable job.  IAF is primarily responsible to secure Indian airspace and conduct aerial warfare during conflicts.  This force established in 1932 exemplified themselves at the hills by their rescue operations in test conditions.  Apart from conflicts, the IAF has been an active participant in United Nations peacekeeping missions. In 1960 when there was conflict in Congo when Belgium’s 75 year rule ended, IAF activated No. 5 Squadron, equipped with English Electric Canberra, to support the United Nations Operation in the Congo. The unit remained there until 1966, when the UN mission ended.

Now in Uttarakhand, IAF has set a World record in saving 20,000 civilians in an astonishing 2,140 missions during the 15-day Operation Raahat to rescue victims of flash floods in Uttarakhand. The first phase of operation Raahat ended officially on Tuesday, after which the IAF claimed that it was the biggest heliborne rescue operation of airlifting civilians in peace time anywhere in the world. In the gigantic effort, around 45 aircraft of different types were involved. The operation was also marred by a tragic accident involving a Mif-17V5 helicopter, in which the 20 people on board were killed. 
The phase 2 of operation Raahat - focusing on supplying relief to the villagers - will begin almost simultaneously as around 8 to 10 helicopters are staying back in the region. The IAF has left most Advanced Light Helicopters in the region as they were best suited to operate in narrow valleys surrounded by high mountains. The requirement for relief operations would be indicated by the state administration. A large quantity of relief material has reached the state from all over the country and problems are being faced to move it to the disaster zone as road connectivity still remains broken.

Now it is going to be ‘Operation Raahat’ – supplying relief to stricken villagers in which IAF helicopters could play a major role in dispatching this material to victims. Besides various helicopters, C- 130J special aircrafts were utilised for daily weather reconnaissance sortie and also for forming a fuel bridge to the disaster zone.

Many good hearted Samaritans and NGOs are also doing their bit. The first female amputee to climb Mount Everest, Arunima Sinha, is reported to be heading there for relief work, providing ration, blankets and plastic tarpaulins. Hockey India on Tuesday contributed Rs 10 lakh to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund to help the flood victims of Uttarakhand. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh announced that he would contribute Rs 10 lakh to the flood victims, saying, "A part of it will be donated to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund and the remaining part will go to the Punjab government's relief fund." Bhajan was stranded in Joshimath for a few days after the tragedy struck.

The sad tinge to relief work are the reports of some people looting money in Uttarakhand or misbehaving with women en-route.  Indian Air Force has complained to Delhi Police about fraudulent websites and Facebook pages in its name asking for donations to helpflood victims. In his complaint, Wing Commander Tejveer Singh, has reportedly also given details of two account numbers being circulated online.  There are also reports of some high-flying politicians making aerial survey and flagging off relief convoys.  Some other reports mention that Uttar Pradesh CM demanded luxury carpets and western toilets while visiting families of hero pilots killed in Uttarakhand.  The report criticizes the UP CM Akhilesh Yadav as making a visit in style and luxury whence expensive carpets were required to be rolled out, good sofas to sit and western toilets to be put in place.  The CM of the affected State did not distinguish himself in the wake of advertisements which had people smiling on them.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
4th July 2013.

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