Forces granted emergency financial powers amid Covid-19 crisis
Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Friday granted emergency financial powers to the military to strengthen and accelerate its efforts to deal with the crisis posed by the coronavirus disease pandemic even as the Indian Navy dispatched its warships to foreign shores to bring back liquid oxygen filled cryogenic containers.
“These (financial) powers will help formation commanders to establish and operate quarantine facilities/hospitals and undertake procurement/repair of equipment/items/material/stores, besides provisioning of various services and works required to support the ongoing effort against the pandemic,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
While vice chiefs of armed forces including Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC) and army commanders (and their equivalent ranks in the navy and air force) have been given “full powers”, corps commanders and area commanders have been delegated powers to spend up to ₹50 lakh each.
While the statement did not elaborate on financial powers given to the vice chiefs and others, ministry officials said “full powers” implied that finances should not come in the way of mounting a robust response to the pandemic. Division commanders/sub area commanders and their equivalent ranks in the navy and air force have been delegated powers to spend up to ₹20 lakh per case. Such powers were sanctioned last year too when the pandemic first broke out.
“These powers have been devolved initially for a period of three months, from May 1 to July 31, 2021,” the statement said. These powers are in addition to the emergency powers granted to the military’s medical officers last week.
On April 23, Singh granted emergency buying powers to senior military doctors as part of the ministry’s overall plan to fight the outbreak. While the heads of the medical wings of the three services were given powers to make purchases worth ₹5 crore, doctors holding the ranks of major general and brigadier were allowed to make procurements worth ₹3 crore and ₹2 crore, respectively.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reviewed the military’s preparations for Covid relief thrice this week in one-on-one meetings with the chief of defence staff, the Indian Air force chief and the army chief.
As part of the steps being taken by the armed forces to fight the outbreak, the navy on Friday launched Operation Samudra Setu-II and dispatched warships to Bahrain, Thailand and Singapore for shipment of oxygen filled cryogenic containers to India.
“Two warships, INS Kolkata and INS Talwar. have entered port of Manama, Bahrain, for transporting 40MT of liquid oxygen to Mumbai. INS Jalashwa is enroute to Bangkok and INS Airavat to Singapore for similar missions,” navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said.
IAF is also making a significant contribution in the fight against Covid by transporting much-needed empty oxygen containers to filling stations across the country. It has been involved in ferrying empty cryogenic oxygen containers to filling centres in India from different domestic locations and even abroad to help hospitals tide over the oxygen crisis.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria told PM Narendra Modi on April 28 that he has ordered 24x7 readiness of the IAF’s entire heavy-lift fleet and substantial numbers of its medium-lift fleet to operate in a hub and spoke model to swiftly meet all Covid-related tasking across the country and overseas.
“As of April 29, IAF has carried out 23 sorties from abroad, airlifting 39 oxygen containers with a capacity of 670 MT. Within the country, it carried out 124 sorties, airlifting 87 containers with a capacity of 1,798 MT. On Friday, IAF carried out 10 domestic sorties to help meet oxygen requirements,” said an IAF official.