The people of Jammu and Kashmir look forward to very pleasant weather conditions on the onset of summer that also heralds the tourist season. This year the region, along with the rest of India and the world, is restrained due to rising COVID infections. The Government with complete support of the people is putting in all effort to contain the situation and has achieved a fair degree of success. However, slightest negligence can lead to a super-spread which would cause untold damage.
The Indian Army traditionally helps the people and Government of Jammu and Kashmir overcome natural disasters and other calamities. It has stepped in to assist the government and the people in response to the COVID crisis too. It is doing so despite the criticality of remaining fighting fit for its primary responsibility of ensuring the security of the region both internal and external. The Northern Command of the Indian Army is ensuring the twin objectives of “Force Preservation” and “Optimised Utilisation of Medical Resources” for the benefit of the civilian population, its serving personnel and veteran fraternity.
The Army has planned its assistance in a very meticulous and systematic manner. It is in constant touch with the civil administration down to the village Sarpanches, District Development Council functionaries and prominent members of the civil society. It reaches out with help for immediate, short term and long term requirements. Provision of such assistance has remained an ongoing project since March, 2020, with an incremental graph in tune with the evolving situation.
In view of the increasing cases in Kashmir requiring hospitalisation the Srinagar based Chinar Corps has created a 250 bedded Dedicated COVID Care Center at Rangreth and established two 20 bedded facilities with High Dependency Units in Baramulla and Uri. Some more such facilities are in advanced stages of planning and establishment at different places across the Union Territory. A system of pooling in of resources has been set up where Oxygen cylinders and other medical requirements are being made available to the civil administration as and when required.
The remote and inaccessible areas of the state always pose a big challenge in times of calamity and emergency. The reach of the civil administration in such areas has improved dramatically but it still falls short of requirement. Traditionally, the Army has been looking after these areas and more so in the winter months; now the assistance is being extended through the summer season too. Ration and COVID kits are being distributed among the people living in higher reaches on both sides of the Pir Panjal mountain range and in other remote sectors like Gurez. Through Khairiyat (well being) patrols to remote areas the Army is keeping a track of the conditions and also distributing medicines, masks, sanitizers, PPE kits and other items which are essential to fight the pandemic. A special effort is being made to reach out to the nomad Gurjar/Bakharwal community whose Deras (temporary residential sites) in this time of the year are at heights of 11000 ft.
Vaccination has been identified as a critical element to control spread of COVID; accordingly, the Army’s medical staff is augmenting the Government vaccination drive. It has taken the responsibility for vaccination of people in the higher reaches and the forward areas. The simple people of these areas have implicit faith in the Army because of which they are willing to get vaccinated without the fear and doubt being witnessed in some other areas of the country.
Army units are undertaking massive awareness drives. In a unique initiative in Mahore, District Reasi, the Army used a Quad-Copter (Drone) fitted with a loud speaker to pass on information about COVID appropriate behaviour and the importance of adhering to COVID related protocols. The Quad-Copter went through the Mahore Market telling people to maintain social distancing; wash hands at regular intervals, stay safe etc. This apart, the Army has been using social media and online interactions to make people aware of the need to exercise maximum precaution. This initiative has paid excellent result in reducing the incidence of COVID in rural areas.
Joining the Armed Forces has traditionally been a very lucrative career option for the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and it continues to be so. Hence, the region has a fair number of military veterans, Veer Naris and other dependents of Armed Forces personnel. The Northern Command is very conscious of its duties towards this fraternity of soldiers and is doing all it can to assist them. Help lines have been established at all levels for benefit of the veterans, Veer Naris and allied elements so as to ensure a quick response to any critical situation, medical or administrative in nature. Special efforts are being made to ensure that the vaccination process among the veteran and allied communities is carried out in a smooth and timely manner since most are in the higher age bracket.
In a unique show of solidarity, in this time of need, 1412 Ex-servicemen have volunteered to assist in the COVID service. A considerable number among them have a medical or nursing background. They have been divided in teams of ten each and have already reported to their respective district collectors.
Due to the seamless synergy between the Government, the people and the Indian Army, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are very successfully building capacities in a pre-emptive effort to meet challenges in forthcoming months. The Army reaches out to help since it has the capacity and wherewithal to do so under critical circumstances. It remains forthcoming on grounds of both humanity and duty towards the citizens of the country. The people understand this as a manifestation of the close bond between the Army and the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The goodwill of the army, however, should not lead to complacency in the administration of the Union Territory. It will need to ensure that there is adequate wherewithal, infrastructure and finance available to meet all possible emergencies.
(Jaibans Singh is a social worker, columnist and commentator)