As Covid pandemic rages on, armed forces resources thrown into fray - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 24 April 2021

As Covid pandemic rages on, armed forces resources thrown into fray

Cryogenic oxygen containers being unloaded from an IAF Globemaster on Saturday

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 25th April 21


With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc in India, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a videoconference with his top commanders and officials for the second time this week, to review the efforts of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the military in combating the crisis.


As in the first meeting on Tuesday, Rajnath directed the military to deploy all its resources to aid the government and administration in managing the situation.


“He said, people look up to the armed forces in times of crisis as they have great hope and trust in them,” said a MoD press release on Saturday.


The defence minister expressed satisfaction on the assistance being provided by Indian Air Force (IAF) in moving cryogenic oxygen tankers and plants from abroad and within the country.


The Indian Air Force (IAF) despatched one C-17 Globemaster III heavy transport aircraft to Singapore on Saturday morning. At the time of going to press, it was en route back to India with four empty cryogenic oxygen containers, stated the MoD.


Another C-17 Globemaster III transported two empty containers for liquid oxygen from Pune to Jamnagar; it is currently on its second shuttle for the day. Another Globemaster transported two empty oxygen containers from Jodhpur to Jamnagar.


Meanwhile, one CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter and one Antonov-32 transporter airlifted Covid-19 testing equipment from Jammu to Leh and to Kargil. “The equipment consisted of bio-safety cabinets, centrifuges and stabilisers. These machines have been made by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and have now been given to the Union Territory of Ladakh to enhance testing,” stated the MoD.


Indian Navy ships have been put on standby for assistance in moving oxygen tankers, the MoD said.


The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) is completing the expansion of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Covid-19 hospital in New Delhi on Saturday. The hospital’s capacity of 250 patients is being expanded to 500 beds.


In Gujarat, the DRDO completed the setting up of a 1,000-bed Covid-19 hospital. Work is in full swing to establish a 450-bed Covid-19 facility in Lucknow that is expected to become operational in the next 5-6 days. “These hospitals would be run by Armed Forces Medical Service (AFMS) in coordination and with assistance of local state governments,” stated the MoD.


With the AFMS’s resources stretched to the limit, services of local doctors and health professionals are being sought for a 750-bed hospital that is coming up at Varanasi. Recently retired military doctors are also being pressed into service.


“To augment the work force of health professionals, Raksha Mantri approved a suggestion to deploy those who have recently retired from AFMS,” said the MoD.


Rajnath Singh was informed that all health facilities of Defence Public Sector Undertakings and of the Ordnance Factory Board have been allowed to provide treatment to Covid-19 affected civilians. 


In a significant decision on Tuesday, the defence minister sanctioned the procurement of critical medical equipment under emergency powers of procurement. Lieutenant generals of the medical services have been granted powers to spend Rs 5 crore, major generals can spend up to 3 crore and brigadiers up to 2 crore.


Rajnath Singh was joined in the video-conference on Saturday by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh, Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, Secretary (Defence Production) Raj Kumar, DRDO chief Satheesh Reddy, Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sandeep Singh and Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) Surgeon Vice Admiral Rajat Datta.

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