During a media interaction, a while ago our Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Manoj Mukund Naravane, had hinted about the Indian Army providing “aid to civil authority….during this COVID-19 epidemic.” Following which I am certain that the forces must be taking some steps towards achieving this objective. We as on today (8 April 2020) are at the cusp of the second/third stage of this global pandemic, with approximately 5,820 COVID-19 patients in the country.
The state of Maharashtra has been leading with the number of positive cases crossing the thousand mark, with India’s financial capital Mumbai taking the heaviest toll. The COVID-19 curve is likely to reach at its zenith around first week of May 2020, and the Armed Forces need to be ready to take on any responsibility given by the Government of India (GOI).
So, What are the Stages that the Armed Forces Need to Anticipate?
Protection of their own Force
The armed forces must ensure that their own combat forces remain protected so that they are fit to carry out primary task. In order to achieve that, all cantonments and military stations need to be sealed, and all necessary precautions need to be taken, including practicing social distancing.
Units earmarked for deployment in COVID 19 areas need to move out of their cantonments and establish their own camps near the deployment areas with all necessary facilities, and protective gear. Troops should not be allowed to go back to cantonment until their designated tasks are over and their personal testing and isolation has been completed. These earmarked units need to restructure themselves to tackle the task at hand.
Support Government Efforts
The Armed forces can support governments efforts towards following tasks:
Ensure Public Utilities
Control the use of energy, railway, transport, roads, communication, and water ways.
Control Social Disorder
Ensure food supply, maintain law and order, curb any form of religious tension and riot situation.
Establish medical facilities and staff at earmarked locations.
Ensure Lockdown at Hotspots
Ensure effective Lock down in the various COVID-19 hot spots across the nation, maintaining complete, partial, locality wise shutdown in conjunction with state police and central armed police forces' (CAPF).
Provision of transport aircraft's and ships and related manpower as per the states requirements.
Monitor and regulate movement and control of labor forces from metropolitan cities such as Mumbai and Delhi etc.
Strategic Leadership and Planning
The government must realize that forces senior defence service officers and veterans are experts in carrying out such operations in India and abroad, as part of United Nations Peacekeeping Forces (UNPKF). They have hands on experience in managing disaster situations, be it during Uttarakhand earthquakes, floods in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jammu & Kashmir and Kerala.
Lieutenant General Anil Chait (Retd) and Lieutenant General DRN Soni (Retd) have excelled handling such operations recently, and can easily guide government officials in handling such large scale operations. The greatest advantage of the armed forces is their presence all over the country, which serves as a major advantage in assisting state government officials and the state police force’s in handling this nationwide pandemic.
Colonel Pradeep Dalvi (Retd), was commissioned into the Mechanised Infantry and has served in the Army for 29 years. During his vast military career he has held several prestigious appointments. He is an alumnus of Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington and has served with the United Nations. He has been instructor at Army War College (AWC) and faculty of the Senior Command Wing. Post retirement, he went on star his second inning with the prestigious Tata Group. He is presently a consultant with a corporate firm and a core member of the 'Victory India' campaign