Once decision is taken to evacuate, we will look at all stranded Indians: CDS Rawat

Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat talks to The Daily Guardian about the preparedness of the armed forces in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and carrying out evacuation to bring Indians stranded abroad.

Please tell us the purpose behind the armed forces coming together to salute our corona warriors this Sunday.

A: We all know that the country is battling coronavirus. Doctors, medical professionals, nurses, sanitation workers, police personnel, non-governmental organisations, our media personnel—all of you are uniting to fight coronavirus and help the people of this country. Our country can only win this war if we fight it together. We decided that our forces should also initiate some action so that we can also thank our corona warriors and keep their morale high. It is important to encourage our corona warriors, especially for the days coming ahead, because this war is yet to be won. If we can use our platform to encourage them, then why not do so.

Q: The entire nation is looking towards the military when it comes to evacuation. Can you tell us about the plan?

A: We have maintained quite a bit of synergy when it comes to evacuation with different authorities, especially the MEA. We have worked out a few figures, and our preparations are underway as per that. The Air Force and the naval forces are planning how the evacuations will take place. The Navy has carried out such evacuations before. We are fully prepared. Whenever we get the orders to take action and evacuate, we will do it and it will be successful.

Q: Are we waiting for embassies, consulates abroad and the govt to take a decision? At what stage of preparation are we currently?

A: Preparation has been done. I would say that we are at the ‘Preparation Plus’ stage. When the time is deemed right for action to be taken, then we will do it.

Q: Has any ministry given a rough number of the amount of people that will have to be evacuated?

A: We have worked out rough figures and done our preparations as per that. But it can’t be said from now itself that how many people will exactly be evacuated; we will see. We have also prepared our search capacity. We may be needed to conduct searches as well. State governments have also been told what preparations are required, and defence forces have also been given certain tasks to be ready. So, there is work being done in coordination with the state governments as well as with the Centre. As far as the numbers are concerned, it isn’t just the defence forces that have to be prepared; everybody has to pitch in and be prepared. I can assure you that our country has the capability and capacity to bring back stranded Indians.

Q: As far as quarantine facilities are concerned, what will the procedure be? Will they (evacuees) be quarantined at the place of departure, or after they come here? Will the military place them in quarantine, or will it be state governments?

A: Some facilities have been created by the military, some have been created by states. But to quite an extent, people can also be placed under home quarantine. So, these three will be taken together for consideration. We are discussing currently how to ensure minimum inconvenience and difficulty for all those we evacuate.

Q: Is evacuation preparedness by the military underway, keeping Gulf countries in mind primarily? Or are there other nations too, say the US?

A: You cannot be selective. Once the decision is taken to evacuate, we will look at all stranded Indians the same way.

Q: The lockdown has been extended by another two weeks. Has it impacted military preparedness in any way?

A: Our military preparedness is such that it has to be maintained at all times. Our training has continued. We have adopted some new methods for training. We are training our personnel, keeping in mind social distancing norms. Military preparedness will not be weakened and has not been weakened. We are fully prepared. All three services are functioning properly. The three service chiefs are monitoring the situation constantly. If any challenge comes our way, we will be able to beat it successfully.

Q: Is there any message you would like to give citizens?

A: I would urge all citizens to have patience and maintain discipline. If we have to overcome this crisis, it will be only through patience and discipline. And if we stay together, we will succeed in defeating the crisis that is facing our country. We have succeeded so far, and I am confident that if we continue in this manner, we will see better times ahead.

Q: The numbers tell that India is in a better position as compared to other countries—US, Europe. Especially keeping in mind our population density, our numbers are in control. What is your assessment of the situation?

A: We have taken certain steps in such a way that saved the lives of our citizens. The spread of coronavirus in our country has been limited as compared to other countries because we took timely action. Because of the discipline and patience shown by the citizens. People have followed the directives issued by the government. The effort is to stop this virus entirely. Citizens have no doubt faced difficulty, but despite this, if we want to stay safe from coronavirus, we have to tolerate some inconvenience.