To meet India's Covid-19 challenge, military receives emergency financial powers
The powers, according to the defence ministry, will assist commanders in operating quarantine facilities/hospitals and procuring supplies to aid in the ongoing fight against the Covid pandemic.
Even as the Indian Navy dispatched its warships to foreign shores to carry back liquid oxygen-filled cryogenic tanks, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh granted the military emergency financial powers on Friday to reinforce and accelerate its efforts to deal with the crisis raised by the coronavirus disease pandemic.
“These (financial) forces will assist formation commanders in establishing and operating quarantine facilities/hospitals, as well as procurement/repair of equipment/items/material/stores, as well as provisioning of various resources and works needed to support the ongoing effort against the pandemic,” according to a statement from the defence ministry.
Although vice chiefs of the armed forces, such as the Head of the Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC), and army commanders (and their corresponding ranks in the navy and air force), have been granted "absolute powers," corps commanders and area commanders have been given "limited powers."
Though this statement did not go into detail about the financial powers granted to the vice chiefs and others, ministry officials said that "absolute powers" meant that money should not be a barrier to mounting a strong response to the pandemic. The navy and air force have given division commanders/sub area commanders and their equivalent ranks the authority to spend up to $20 lakh per event. When the pandemic first broke out last year, those powers were also granted.
“These powers were initially devolved for a three-month duration, from May 1 to July 31, 2021,” according to the statement. These powers are in addition to the emergency powers given to medical officers in the military last week.
As part of the ministry's overall strategy to combat the outbreak, Singh issued senior military doctors emergency buying powers on April 23. While the heads of the three services' medical wings were given the authority to make purchases worth up to 5 crores, doctors with the ranks of major general and brigadier were given the authority to make purchases worth up to 3 crores and 2 crores, respectively.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the chief of defence staff, the Indian Air Force chief, and the army chief 3 times this week to discuss the military's plans for Covid relief.
The navy conducted Operation Samudra Setu-II on Friday, dispatching warships to Bahrain, Thailand, and Singapore to ship oxygen-filled cryogenic containers to India as part of the armed forces' response to the outbreak.
“In the port of Manama, Bahrain, two warships, the INS Kolkata and the INS Talwar, have arrived to transport 40MT of liquid oxygen to Mumbai. For similar missions, the INS Jalashwa is en route to Bangkok, and the INS Airavat is en route to Singapore, according to navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal.
IAF is also assisting in the battle against Covid by transporting critically needed empty oxygen containers to fill stations across the world. It has been tasked with transporting empty cryogenic oxygen containers from various domestic and international locations to filling centres in India in order to assist hospitals in overcoming the oxygen shortage.
Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, the IAF's chief, informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 28 that he has ordered the IAF's entire heavy-lift fleet and a significant portion of its medium-lift fleet to work in a hub and spoke model 24 hours a day, seven days a week to fulfil all Covid-related tasking across the country and overseas.
“As of April 29, the IAF had flown 23 sorties from abroad, transporting 39 oxygen containers totalling 670 MT. It flew 124 sorties within the region, transporting 87 containers with a capacity of 1,798 MT. “On Friday, the IAF flew ten domestic sorties to help meet oxygen needs,” an IAF official said.