India has wrapped up Operation Maitri after Nepal asked rescue teams from 34 countries to leave as it prepared to launch massive operations to rehabilitate millions of displaced victims of last month’s massive temblor.
India was one of the first countries to respond to the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and launched its largest ever relief operation in response to a natural disaster on foreign soil.
The quake killed more than 7,200 people, including 41 Indians, and injured 14,355. It also affected around 8 million of the 28 million population of Nepal.
Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said last week his country was indebted to India for its swift response to the humanitarian crisis.
Speaking to HT after being briefed by officials on the pace of aid delivery to far-flung areas, Koirala said, "I have no words to express appreciation for the Indian assistance. Actually, the contribution of all international teams, including the Chinese, has been extraordinary."
Within six hours of the tragedy, India sent the first air force flight that landed in Kathmandu with National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescue teams and relief materials.
Thereafter, 32 air force flights brought in 520 tonnes of materials such as tents, blankets, medicines, cooking material, food, water, heavy engineering equipment, ambulances, RO plant, oxygen generators, two full-fledged army field hospitals with 18 medical teams, 18 army engineering teams and 16 NDRF teams.
Eight Mi-17 and five ALH helicopters of the Indian Army ferried more than 207 tonnes of relief materials, evacuated over 900 injured and transported over 1,700 stranded people of various nationalities.
These teams worked round-the-clock since their deployment in close coordination with the government of Nepal.
More than 2,600 victims have been treated so far by the Indian medical teams and out of these, 1,170 have been treated at Barpak, the epicentre of the earthquake.
"It represented not only the deepest commitment at the highest political level in India but also overwhelming outpouring of support from the people of India and over a dozen Indian states including those bordering Nepal," Indian ambassador to Nepal, Ranjit Rae, said while briefing the international community about rescue and relief work carried out by India.
Amid speculations that Nepal's request to all 34 international search and rescue teams to begin the process of withdrawal was directed at India, its government denied reports that India has been singled out for de-induction.
The decision also came a day after #GoHomeIndianMedia was trending on social media.
The head of NDRF, among the first foreign organisations to arrive, said it had been asked by the Nepal government to conclude its operations.
"All the search and rescue teams, not the relief (teams)... have been asked to return," NDRF chief OP Singh told the media.
As NDRF teams started being withdrawn, India said it is only because their work in the Himalayan country was accomplished that they were leaving.
Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, who handles the disaster management division in the home ministry that controls the NDRF, said the Nepalese government has asked the NDRF to demobilise so that reconstruction and rehabilitation work can be started.
"It should not be taken in any other sense," he said.
Nepalese ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay clarified that India will remain engaged in the rehabilitation process. He asked the media to take the situation positively and added that rescue work in Nepal is about to be completed.
"This (rescue) is the first phase. Now we have to clear all the debris also. Kathmandu is a monumental city... Nepal army is coordinating all these things. They are the experts and if they need any kind of equipment, personnel, they will make their request and government will do accordingly," said Upadhyay.
"We have full commitment of Indian government. We told them our priorities. As far as rescue operation is concerned, it is almost ending and that is why the government of Nepal has decided that all friends who have come should prepare to leave now," he added.
(With PTI inputs)