Hyderabad, June 22: Amid reports of deteriorating weather in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand, Army Chief General Bikram Singh today said efforts have been stepped up to evacuate people stranded in the hilly terrain as “time is limited”.
Army has also increased its footprint to over 6,000 personnel from 500 for the operation.
“...Time is limited. We have window till tomorrow because I have been told that weather might turn bad again but we are rushing our people there.
“Yesterday we landed our paratroopers...we are trying to reach even those areas where there is nobody at the moment just to ensure that in case if anybody is stuck over there, we will be able to get them out from there,” Singh said.
He was addressing reporters after reviewing the Combined Graduation Parade at the Air Force Academy at Dundigal on the city outskirts.
Describing the flash floods and cloudbursts in Uttarakhand, wherein a large number of people have died and thousands still feared missing as “very sad and a big tragedy”, the army chief said, “We have increased the army's footprint from 500 to over 6,000 at the moment”.
“It's a time consuming effort...because of rains, the roads are washed away. The accessibility is restricted but that not withstanding, we are doing our best because it is very important to save precious lives and important to ensure that we address aspirations of our countrymen who are there,” he said.
Singh said that efforts are underway to ensure that Army personnel move forward to the difficult terrain with necessary logistics like medicines, rations etc. to extricate those who are marooned due to the unprecedented calamity.
“We are trying to assuage their sufferings and give them basic necessities,” he added.
The army chief also pointed out that a comprehensive plan involving various agencies like the Air Force, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Uttarakhand government is put in place to expedite the rescue operations.
When asked if the army was facing difficulties apart from the inclement weather, Singh said “...You must understand that increasing the footprint from 500 to 6,200 means you got to send the logistic cover not only for 6,200 personnel but you also have to take care of the people who need to be extricate from there”.
He said that despite challenging circumstances, the army, along with other agencies was moving forward.
The Met department has predicted bad weather from June 24 in the Himalayan state, which is still coming to terms with the havoc wreaked by devastating mudslide and flash floods that swept away almost everything standing in its way.
“This is the weather forecast. We can hope for the best. If we have good weather things will be much easier...If aircraft, helicopters cannot fly you can not reach those areas and going by road or by cross country through such mountainous regions takes time,” the army chief said.
Explaining the operations, Singh said since the terrain was arduous and very slippery special tracks have to be built.
“We have to build tracks and move forward. It's taking time but we are committed....It's our duty to safeguard the interest of our countrymen and Indian army, along with the Air Force and other agencies, is moving forward in this direction,” he said.
To a query if more troops will be deployed in Uttarakhand, the General said, “There is no point in increasing forces to a point that they become a burden on existing logistics and infrastructure”.
“We have reached the optimal level of 6,200. We will see where it is required and will increase (the deployment) but otherwise this is the requisite and adequate resource to be positioned straight forward,” he added.