India has ramped up its relief operations in quake-ravaged Nepal, with the focus on deploying medical and engineering teams and restoring road links to speed up the evacuation of hundreds of stranded Indian nationals.
More than two dozen aircraft, including heavy lift planes such as the C130J Hercules and C-17 Globemaster, and hundreds of personnel from the military and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are engaged in Operation Maitri, making it one of the largest relief efforts mounted by India on foreign soil.
With hundreds of Indians stranded in Nepal in the wake of Saturday’s 7.9-magnitude quake that killed more than 3,700 people in the Himalayan nation, officials are focusing on opening up damaged roads so that people can be evacuated in buses because the number of flights from Kathmandu airport is limited.
Till Monday evening, the Indian Air Force had airlifted 2,246 people in more than a dozen sorties despite bad weather and an aftershock that briefly shut the Kathmandu airport on Sunday. However, many more Indian tourists and pilgrims were stranded in the Nepalese capital and other places.
Plans have been drawn up to evacuate people in a fleet of buses once roads linking Nepal to the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are repaired and opened. The relief teams will have their work cut out for them as several roads and highways were blocked by landslides triggered by the massive quake and dozens of aftershocks, officials said.
A total of 150 Indians who reached the border at Raxaul in Bihar on Monday morning were sent to their homes by train by the state government. Ten buses were sent to Pokhara in Nepal to bring back stranded citizens, said Vyas Jee, principal secretary of the disaster management department.
In view of the massive scale of relief operations, India sent three top military commanders, led by Major General J S Sandhu, to Nepal on Sunday to coordinate and fast-track rescue and evacuation efforts. The senior officers from the army and air force will work with NDRF chief O P Singh, who is camping in Kathmandu, and Nepalese authorities.
The Indian Army has already sent 10 Inmarsat systems for satellite communications to Nepal. The quake caused widespread damage to communications infrastructure and phone links were disrupted at many places.
Defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said six medical teams, engineering task force components, blankets, tents and other relief materials will be flown to Nepal by the air force on Monday.
The air force will also complete several sorties that were aborted on Sunday because of aftershocks. Kar said four light helicopters would be stationed at Pokhara to enhance relief operations.
A Rapid Action Medical Team of the IAF began functioning at a first aid centre in Lagankhel, eight kilometres from the Kathmandu airport. Army teams will bring the injured to the centre manned by three doctors and 25 paramedics.
The Indian personnel are working closely with hundreds of retired Gorkha soldiers of the Indian Army.
India has already provided 10 tonnes of blankets, 50 tonnes of water and 22 tonnes of food donated by states and voluntary agencies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who chaired a meeting on Sunday, is personally overseeing the planning and execution of the relief operations and evacuation of stranded Indians.
Home minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday that India will do everything possible to help Nepal. “We had held a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and many decisions have been taken so that we can provide the maximum help to Nepal,” he told reporters.