BIMSTEC is one of the most important and closely-knit group of countries, the Defence Minister said

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday called for a multilateral effort, involving partners in the Bay of Bengal region for tackling future natural, man-made disasters.

The Defence Minister said this while inaugurating an equipment display during PANEX-21, a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Exercise for BIMSTEC member nations, organized at College of Military Engineering in Pune.

“Efforts by a nation directly affected by natural disaster, may quite understandably fall short due to the huge magnitude of such disasters. Thus, a multilateral effort, involving partners in Bay of Bengal region, will act as a force multiplier in pooling-in resources and orchestrating relief measures,” he said.

“It will accelerate the process of providing relief to people who are already distressed due to the natural disaster,” the Minister added.

“India’s will facilitate, support and assist in all possible ways and develop measures that aid in regional cooperation, which benefit all the member states, in the Bay of Bengal region,” he assured.

Singh termed BIMSTEC as one of the most important and closely-knit group of countries which has the potential to build a symbiotic partnership amongst like-minded nations by strengthening existing civilisational bonds.

Lauding the member nations for standing by each other during natural calamities, he said, PANEX-21 provides a fresh impetus for creating a more cohesive mechanism to respond to the HADR challenges in the region.

The Defence Minister exuded confidence that the exercise will facilitate improved coordination for meeting future challenges related to cyclones and earthquakes and threats like COVID-19.

He reiterated India’s vision for the Indian Ocean region (IOR), which is based on the concept of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Singh called for deepening economic and security cooperation in the littorals; enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories; working towards sustainable regional development; blue economy and promoting collective action to deal with non-traditional threats like natural disasters, piracy and terrorism.

While each of these elements requires equal attention, developing an effective response mechanism to address humanitarian crisis and natural disasters is one of the most important pillars of SAGAR, he added.

The Defence Minister praised the Indian Armed Forces and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) for incorporating HADR operations as one of the foremost elements in their vision and for being the first responder in IOR.

He made special mention of the pivotal role played by the defence forces and ICG in the fight against COVID-19.

This commitment is reflected equally in the performance of the Armed Forces of each of the partner countries in the Bay of Bengal region, the Minister added further.

On the COVID-19 pandemic front, he stated that such calamities demand very specific resources which need to be moved to areas facing an emergency in a short span of time.

Defence Minister Singh emphasized on the need for seamless information sharing mechanism at the regional level, establishment of protocols for moving responders and material and creating requisite capacities on the basis of country specific needs.

He mentioned about some notable HADR missions in IOR undertaken by India, including Operation Rahat in Yemen in 2015 – when India evacuated over 6,700 people; cyclone in Sri Lanka in 2016; the earthquake in Indonesia in 2019; Cyclone Idai in Mozambique; and flooding and landslides in Madagascar in January 2020; Oil spill in Mauritius in August 2020 and Oil tanker fire in Sri Lanka in September 2020 during the pandemic.

The Defence Minister also lauded National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Response Forces and other agencies at Central, State and district levels for working bravely and tirelessly to provide relief to the people during disasters.

He stressed that not only government agencies, but the participation of the private sector, local population and NGOs is critical for ensuring the success of HADR initiatives.

Hoping that the PANEX-21 will create the necessary groundwork for BIMSTEC nations to strengthen protocols, involving all stakeholders, to respond to future disasters, Singh called for consolidating and publishing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to aid member states, expedite the conduct of disaster relief operations and save precious lives.

“Each one of you, participating in this joint endeavor, brings a degree of expertise to the table. You also come with your own unique experiences. There is a need to synthesize these into a document that can be shared, circulated and be built upon for the benefit of member countries and subsequent endeavors of this kind,” he said.

The PANEX-21 exercise, being held from December 20 to 22, 2021, saw a coordinated display of rescue and relief efforts by Indian Army, Navy and Air Force.

In simulated disaster conditions, the synergised application of resources of the Armed Forces and other premiere disaster relief agencies of the country resulted in rescue of the stranded people as well as early restoration of essential services and opening of all lines of communications.

The equipment display, organized in association with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), is aimed to showcase the niche industrial capabilities and capacities of the Indian industry on disaster relief operations.

Many innovative solutions, capabilities and range of products to assist government agencies in planning, preparation and conduct of HADR operations were demonstrated to the delegates of member nations of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). A compendium of the products was also released by Shri Rajnath Singh on the occasion.

Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane, General Officer-Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command Lieutenant General J S Nain and senior civil and military officials of the Ministry of Defence were present on the occasion.