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Media Briefing on Indian Rescue and Relief Efforts in Nepal (April 26, 2015)

April 26, 2015

Spokesperson (Shri Frank Noronha): Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We have on the dais Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar; Home Secretary Shri S.C. Goyal; Defence Secretary Shri R.K. Mathur; Member Secretary, NDMA, Shri R.K. Jain; DG, IMD, Dr. L.S. Rathore. They will brief you on the rescue and relief operations undertaken by the Government following yesterday’s earthquake in Nepal. After their opeing remarks we will take a few questions. Over to Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary (Dr. S. Jaishankar): Thank you very much.

We are here to give you an update on the efforts we are making for rescue and relief in Nepal. It is called Operation Maitri. The fact that we are here today – Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, IMD, NDMA, Civil Aviation – will give you a sense of our own coordination in this regard.

Today we expect to have 13 military aircraft go in to Kathmandu. Four of them are C-17s, three of them are C-130s, four of them are IL-76s, and two of them are AN-32s. In addition, we have some civil aircraft go in in the morning – two Air India aircraft and one Jet – to bring back Indians who were stranded there.

In terms of what has gone in today for rescue and relief, some of it has already happened because out of these 13 aircraft five have landed in Kathmandu, the others are on their way. We had a bit of a break because, as you know, there were aftershocks today in Kathmandu which closed the airport for some time but by late evening we expect to have all 13 in.

What is and has gone into Kathmandu today are parts of three Army field hospitals, an engineering task force, a medical contingent of civilian medical doctors along with two tonnes of medical supplies which has been organised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. We have had three more NDRF teams. Yesterday seven teams went in. Those seven teams are already deployed. Two of them are in Pattan, two of them are in Swayambhu, three of them are in Bhaktapur. Today three more teams have gone in. They will be deploying very soon. We are expecting in the next few days six more teams of NDRF to go in.

In terms of supplies, there are 10 tonnes of blankets and tents which have been lifted; 50 tonnes of water which have been supplied by the Railways; and 22 tonnes of food material which has been contributed by different States and voluntary organisations.

In addition to these 13 fixed-wing aircraft which are going into Kathmandu, there are already six Mi-17 helicopters which moved this morning to Kathmandu. Their operations are being coordinated. Our understanding is that they have already been active in rescuing and bringing people who have been injured in the earthquake. There are two more ALHs and four more Mi-17s which are on standby. So, this is the air deployment, the supplies and the personnel who have gone in today.

Again, I underline that our rapid rescue and relief response to the situation in Nepal is our primary mission. Since we are going in there, we are also obviously looking to bring back Indians and citizens of other countries where we have the space, back to India.

Yesterday we brought back 540 people. Today so far two aircraft have been able to take off - one was of 237, which has landed already; one is of 266, which is on its way. There is one aircraft which is loading as we speak, which is of 130 people. We have a lot of Indians and citizens of other countries who are at the airport. We have to tell them to be patient because they have to understand that relief and rescue in Kathmandu is our primary purpose, we have to fly in loads of equipment and supplies. We will accommodate as many people as we can in bringing them back. But this will take a little bit of time.

Today the airport itself was closed for a fairly large portion of the day. And it was also closed to commercial traffic. So, it is only now that civil airlines again can operate. So, it is going to take us a little time for Air India and other airlines to fly in. Air India has been good enough to reduce its fares to very very reasonable levels as a gesture.

We also hope that we will be able to get people out of Kathmandu by buses. We have been trying to confirm that the two road accesses to Kathmandu – one from the Raxaul-Birgunj side and the other from Sunauli-Bhairawa side – are open. To the best of our information, the roads are open but the traffic is moving very slowly, it is clogged with vehicles. But we are expecting, again as I speak, about 35 buses to move out of Raxaul and Sunauli.

We have asked our Embassy in Kathmandu also to see if they can organise buses and send people. They are having difficulties, because buses and drivers are not readily available, but they are making best efforts. So, we hope probably by nightfall or early tomorrow morning to have some bus movement of people as well.

This is broadly the situation. If you have any questions, I or my colleagues would be very happy to answer. My colleagues might like to add anything in this regard.

Home Secretary (Shri S.C. Goyal): Just to give you an update on the casualties and the persons who have been injured in different States, as of now the reports received indicate that 62 casualties have taken place, and 259 people have been injured - Bihar 46, Uttar Pradesh 13, West Bengal 2, and Rajasthan 1. Numbers of those injured are: Bihar 156, Uttar Pradesh 43, West Bengal 52 and Sikkim 8. That is the overall picture as of now.

As I mentioned yesterday, four teams of NDRF in Bihar and one team in UP have been deployed. We are in constant touch with the State Governments. We are monitoring the situation. If they need any further assistance from the Central Government, we have assured them all possible help from this side. That is what I would say at this point in time. If there are any questions, I will be happy to answer.

Question: Sir, today you have also directed SSB to get involved in the relief effort, set up certain camps, etc. What would be SSB’s role and would you also be telling them to go across the border and help like NDRF?

Home Secretary: SSB has been given instructions to facilitate movements across the borders. All these buses from UP, Bihar and even Uttarakhand would be going across to bring tourists by road, as was mentioned by the Foreign Secretary. We have given clear instructions that the SSB officers must facilitate that. SSB officers have also been given instructions that they could set up medical camps in our border areas. If any assistance is required by any of the tourists coming in, they would be able to give them help.

Question: Ab tak 540 aaye. Ab tak kul kitne Bharatiya aa gaye hain, aur kitnon ke vahan phanse hone ki sambhavna hai?

Foreign Secretary: Kal mere khyal se 546 log aaye. Jaise main ne bataaya, aaj abhi tak - hamein jab tak plane load nahin ho jata aur lift nahin ho jata, hamein exact number pata nahin hota - ek plane ka toh 237 tha. Yeh plane pahunch chuki hai. Dusri plane mein 267 log hain. Abhi 130 ki sambhavna hai, par yeh andaz ka number hai. Jab tak plane takeoff nahin hoga, hamein voh number pata nahin chalega. Kitne log hain vahan? Main keh sakta hun kuchh hazaron mein hain. Kyon ki hamaare bhi log hain, dusre desh ke bhi log hain. Ab jab tak log plane mein chadhte nahin hain, tab tak hamein exact number kehna mushkil hota hai. Par yeh main aapko keh sakta hun ki kuchh hazaron mein hain log.

Question: Medical facility ke baare mein khaas taur par complaint aa rahin hain. Bahut saare davaayiyon ki zarurat hai, bahut saare logon ko ilaj ki zarurat hai. Kya aisa kuchh hoga ki vahan se kuchh logon ko India mein ilaj ke liya laya jaye?

Foreign Secretary: Abhi tak mujhe nahin lagta ki koi complaint aa rahi hai. Vahan se requests aa rahi hain. Aur vahan jo hum log kar rahein hain, jaise hamein lag raha hai ki vahan log prashansa kar rahe hain ki hum itni jaldi respond kar rahen hain. Toh isko thoda theek tarah se aap portray kariye. Is mein jo ho raha hai, ek field hospital joh kal gayi thi uska deployment Nepalese military hospital ke saath ho chuka hai. Aaj jo medical team jaa rahi hai unka deployment hoga. Hamaari koshish hai ki civilian hospitals ki medical supplies ki demand jo hai uska voh assessment karenge. Aur jo bhi demand hoga, jo requirement hai, voh hum log bhejenge.

Question: Any idea of the number of casualties across the border?

Home Secretary:
The only information that we have on this is that two persons who belonged to Bihar are reported to have died there. That is the only information as of now we have with regard to such people.

Foreign Secretary: We have some unconfirmed reports but I do not want to share that unless we have confirmation.

Question: Mr. Home Secretary, what is the total figure that you and the Government of India are getting of dead in Nepal? We are getting 2100 and 1900. Have you got any confirmed figure of dead and injured in Nepal?

Foreign Secretary: No.

Question: How do you describe the situation there? How bad is it?

Foreign Secretary: It is obviously very bad. You have seen the pictures coming out, you look at the numbers of casualties which people are talking about, and you look at the scale of our response. It is obviously a very serious situation.

Question: Aapne kaha ki buson ke dwara logon ko laane ki baat ki jaa rahi hai. Bharat se kitne saare busein bheji jaa rahi hain aur vahan se kitne buson ke zariye logon ko laaya ja raha hai?

Foreign Secretary: Hamein aaj hi pata laga hai, humko check karna pada ki road ki halat kya hai. Ek baar jab hamein confirmation mili hai ki busein aur gaadiyan road par ja rahin hain, toh ab hum logon ne shuru ki hai busein bhejna. Vahan Kathmandu mein bas milna mushkil ho raha hai. Ab voh requirement ke hisab se jayenge kyon ki road joh hai voh kafee clogged hai is time. Baaki gaadiyan hain road par. Kuchh ja sakti thin, kuchh ruki hai vahan. Toh yeh agle din aapko dekhna hoga kuchh din ke liye ki kitni basein jayengi. Par hamaari ummeed hai ki road route ke through kafee badi evacuation hogi.

Question: Any idea how many Indians were injured or missing?

Foreign Secretary: No.

Question: There were teams that were on an expedition at the Mount Everest. What are the efforts that are being made to rescue those people? And any numbers of the number of people rescued so far?

Foreign Secretary: It has been less than 36 hours since the earthquake. I think the focus of the efforts has been on Kathmandu because that is where the primary casualties and damage have been. And that is also the logical entry point for a rescue and relief effort. But our Embassy is trying to get as much information as possible all over Nepal. It is not easy; today telephones were off and on, internet is down, electricity is very difficult. So, we are trying to piece together a picture. But it is a very difficult situation and we hope that people understand how difficult it is to operate in this situation.

Question: The Ministry of External Affairs and the Government of India have created various control rooms and numbers. We see a lot people approaching the Ministry of External Affairs and for that matter the Government of India through social media. How are you coordinating with those people who are putting their messages across trying to get in touch with the Embassies? Quite of them are in Pokhara or remote areas. We have seen messages of people who are in remote areas and have not been able to reach Kathmandu. How is the Government trying to help Indians stranded in remote areas?

Foreign Secretary: First of all, a number of Ministries have opened up control rooms. The Home Ministry has opened up for people who have enquiries in India. I think NDMA has also opened up its control room. Insofar as Nepal is concerned, what we did was we gave some telephone numbers. But given the spate of enquires we had, they were not handlable by telephone. So, we also are using Twitter and e-mails. I have put out the e-mail address yesterday for people. In fact I must say we got a lot of information from NDMA. The public responds in its anxiety. So, people are not sure who to write to or contact. We have got a lot of information because people contacted the NDMA control room as well.

So, right now we are compiling data on the Indians who their relatives tell us are in Nepal. Obviously the follow up will be to call them up and figure out, but we will have to do that. At the moment the immediate task is on rescue and relief.

Question: Aaj jo aftershock tha, 6.9 Richter Scale par, us se kya asar pada? Baarish udhar kaafi ho rahi hai. Us se kitna mushkil aa rahi hai vahan par rescue kaam mein?Aaj ke aftershock ka epicentre hai voh bahut zyada kareeb hai Hindustan ke. Us se hamaare border areas mein kuchh nuksan hua?

Foreign Secretary:
Aaj jo aftershock hua tha uske kaaran ek toh airport ko band kar diya gaya tha. Usi ka impact tha hamaare rescue and relief effort mein. Aur baarish aur cloud cover ke kaaran mere khyal se some of the helicopters had to turn back yesterday. And many of the tasks which helicopters could have done were difficult to do because of cloud cover. Obviously if it rains, it is going to make rescue and relief effort difficult.

Question: Already forecast hai ki aur barish hogi.

Foreign Secretary: Yes.

Question: Which areas of Nepal are worst affected according to your information? Where are our relief and rescue teams deployed?

Foreign Secretary:
I told you of the deployment of the seven NDRF teams yesterday. I am not yet sure where the NDRF teams are to be deployed. DG, NDRF is in Kathmandu.

Director General, Indian Meteorological Department (Shri L.S. Rathore): Is ka epicentre kareeb 75 kilometres northwest par tha Kathmandu se. That area has been seen by our helicopters today. We have seen fairly extensive damage to the houses. Our assessment is that while there is damage to houses, damage to life may not be as much because of the nature of material perhaps used in the houses. We have in fact rescued almost 141 people from generally the area which would be treated as the epicentre of the earthquake, and they have been moved to the military hospitals or other hospitals in Kathmandu.

Foreign Secretary: We are getting inputs from different parts because we have some military people, we have NDRF people, we have Embassy inputs. So, essentially the exercise which we have been doing is that we, the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) which the Cabinet Secretary heads, meet in the mornings. We had a very extended session. So, different inputs are collated together which gives us a more integrated picture. At this time it is still happening little by little. Today all of us - the Secretaries who are involved led by Cabinet Secretary - reported to a meeting which Prime Minister and the senior Ministers of the Cabinet attended. Prime Minister took this meeting.

One of the outcomes of the meeting today was that we are going to send a senior level team to Kathmandu to coordinate this. It will be an inter-Ministerial team. So, it will take us time to get an integrated picture because we will get inputs. For example so far our people have only gone into Kathmandu. We do not know the situation which is west of Kathmandu where a lot of damage was done. I think we will be briefing you regularly so that we get a better picture.

Question: You said that you would try to get Indian nationals as well as people of other nationalities. We have reported about a case where a British national, she is a person of Indian origin but a British passport holder, was in queue but at the very last moment she was asked to get off the relief flight. This person, Padmini Ray Choudhury, who is from Bangalore was not taken in while her other colleague from Bangalore who was an Indian national was asked to board the flight.

Foreign Secretary: And your point is?

Question: Is there a sort of priority only for Indian passport holders?

Foreign Secretary: I think every nation obviously gives priority to its own nationals. I do not think that is an unnatural thing. But if an aircraft is taking off and there is space, it depends on the case concerned and the person concerned. These are judgments which the local team would make. So, I would not go very much by an individual example.

Home Secretary:
There are immigration issues also.

Question: DG, IMD sahab se hum poochhna chahte hain. Agle do din mein agar hum mausam ke baare mein aur rescue ko le kar kya …(Inaudible)… us baare mein kuchh batayiye. Baarish ke liye kaafi forecast hai. Kya kya aur cheezein hain jo aap share karna chahenge?

DG, IMD: Agle 48 ghante barish rahegi. Aaj se kal thoda tej hogi, parso aur tej hogi. Is se baadha zarur hogi. Kyon ki bhookamp ke kaaran zameen mein thoda sa kamzori aa jaati hai, toh bhooskhalan aur avalanche ki sambhavna badh jaati hai. Bhooskhalan se bhi avalanche hue hain. Toh uski sambhavna badh jaati hai. Jo aftershocks hain, ab tak 46 aa chuke hain, chaar ya uske adhik magnitude ke. Joh kal aaya tha 6.6 ka aur aaj 6.9 ka, yeh bade bhookamp hain. Aur baaki paach aur chheh ke beech ke bhi kaafi hain. Lekin chhote chhote toh asankhya hain. Teen se kam hain. Aur yeh abhi aanewale samay mein jaari rahenge. Aur ayenge.

Aam taur par yeh hai ki joh urja hai us ki settlement mein samay lagta hai. Aur jitni urja agar abhi nikal jaye toh bhavishya mein bade bhookamp ke aane ki sambhavna kam rahegi. Aur is resettlement mein samay kitna lagega yeh andar bhoogarbh ki avasthaon ke upar nirbhar karta hai. Kyonki hum dekh nahin paate hain toh uska aakalan abhi mumkin nahin hai.

Question: Sir, aaj ek report padh rahe thei jiske mutaabik duniya bhar se geologists, earth scientists, aur seismologists Nepal gaye hue thei study karne ke liye aur they were expecting that such kind of an earthquake could come. Aur shayad unke expectations se kaafi pehle yeh ho chuka hai. Halaanki koi forecast nahin kar sakta hai earthquake ko, lekin vahan par is tareeke ki cheezein andar se chal rahi thin that this was very much expected. Aur is scale se bhi zyada earthquake expected tha. Yeh kaunsi plates hain jiske vajah se yeh bhookamp aaya.

DG, IMD: Yeh jo kshetra hai yeh Eurasian aur Indian subcontinen plates par hain. Yeh badi plates hain. Aur yeh fracture joh hai yeh bhi bahut lamba hai Afghanistan se lekar ke Myanmar tak, aur uske baad dakshin mein Andaman ki taraf jaata hai. Yeh platon ke jo dabaav hai, aise plates ke dabaav joh bhi bhookamp aata hai, bade bhookamp ki sambhavna vahan kaafi zyada hoti hai. Kyon ki kayi barson se yahan bada bhookamp nahin aaya tha, toh pratiksha thi is ki ki yeh aayega. Samay ka koi aakalan hota nahin hai aise mein. Aur jaise main ne kaha, abhi resettlement ka samay chal raha hai. Iska daur kitna chalega, iska koyi poorvanuman nahin kar sakta.

Question: Aapne kaha ki aftershocks jaari rahenge. Koi avadhi hai joh aap keh sakte hain?

DG, IMD: Jaise main ne nivedan kiya, jab ek baar bhookamp ho kar bada rupture ho gaya aur nirantar oorja nikalti reh rahi hai aur vaapas joh bhoogarbh ki avastha resttle hoti hai. Aur resettlement ke process ka koi observation toh hai nahin. Aap dekh nahin paa rahe hain, na koi model hai, na aankde hain. Toh is ka koi anumaan lagaana sambhav nahin hai. Lekin yeh jaari rehte hain. Aam taur par ye dekha gaya ki jab bhi bada bhookamp aata hai - jaise yeh 7.9 ka tha - toh ek magnitude kam ke aftershocks aate hain. Dheere dheere yeh kam hote jaate hain. Aur beech mein episodes, spikes hote rehte hain. Toh yeh kuchh saptah tak, kuchh mahinon tak, kuchh barson tak bhi chalta hai.

Foreign Secretary: I have one additional point to perhaps Geeta’s question on calls to our control rooms. Our control room people confirmed to me that every call and every mail is replied to so that the person who is calling is clear that the information given by them has been accepted by the system. Secondly, we have one input about the report of the early deployment of NDRF on which I think Home Ministry might want to say something.

Home Secretary: NDRF ke saat team already deploy ho chuki hain aur teen team aaj pahunchi hain. Hopefully chheh team kal ravaana ho jayengi. Abhi tak ki jo report mili hai uske mutabik NDRF have been able to save eight live persons and recover 23 bodies. This is in Nepal.

Jahan tak India mein ex gratia payment ki baat hai, PM Relief Fund se 2 lakh announce kar diya gaya hai. Aur NDRF, SDRF ke norms hain - jo humne philhaal mein revise kiye thei jaise aapko maalum hai, 1.5 lakh se usko chaar laakh kiya tha – voh chaar lakh bhi ex gratia payment ke taur par will be made available to the next of kin of those who have lost their lives.

Question: Is maujuda muhim mein Bharat ka yogdaan Nepal mein sirf rescue aur relief tak hi hoga yah baad mein infrastructure building mein bhi jaari rahega?

Foreign Secretary:
Abhi toh situation aisa hai ki hamaari focus rescue aur relief par hai. Par yeh padosi desh hai, Nepal hai jiske saath hamaara bahut purana rishta hai, toh aage kya hoga voh toh hamein dekhna padega. Par aapka prashn mere khyal se prashn nahin uttar hai.

Question: Sir, as of now, are the helicopters and the fixed-wing aircraft only landing at the Kathmandu airport or are there any other bases that you are probably looking to land in so that you can take more people in?

Foreign Secretary: So far Kathmandu. But I think we will be examining other airports, because we do not know the damage in other places.

Defence Secretary (Shri R.K. Mathur): As the weather improves, we would be able to fly the planes to different areas. When we find which areas are the worst affected, we will definitely shift some of the assets to those areas. But it is a premature question because we have really not been able to fly over Nepal as yet.

Question: You met with the inter-Ministerial team that would be going to Kathmandu. I just wanted to know if there is an understanding of the officers who would be going as part of the team. Would it be headed by a Minister? Foreign Secretary: It will be a team of officials because their purpose will be to coordinate the tactical operations. So, it is a sort of ground level coordination. It will be headed by an official from the Home Ministry.

Home Secretary: It will be headed by an officer from the Home Ministry. An Additional Secretary level officer would be heading this team of six officers.

Question: Sir, hamaara Gujarat ka experience hai. Vahan par mujhe yaad hai …(Inaudible)… Kya Gujarat ke experienced officers jinhon ne earthquake ko deal kiya hai, unki madad li jaa rahi hai?

Home Secretary: Phil haal toh yeh nirnay abhi liya nahin gaya hai. Agar zaroorat padi toh aisa nirnay bhi le liya jayega.

Spokesperson (Shri Frank Noronha):
Thank you friends and I thank all the Secretaries.


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