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Employment of air power in disaster response: an analysis of existing framework in India

Student Name: Mr Shajahan Avadi
Guide: Dr Soumendu Sarkar
Year of completion: 2022


Indian armed forces have traditionally been part of government response arrangements for natural disasters given the limitations on the coping capacity of local administration. Airpower has been a critical component within the military response capability. Disaster Management Act, 2005, was enacted with the aim of addressing the ever-increasing dependence on armed forces and evolving a holistic approach to disaster management. The Act, while establishing the specialized National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) did not articulate the role of armed forces within the new framework. Role of airpower in disaster response has received little or no attention at the national level in India.

This thesis examines the role of armed forces, airpower in particular, within the current legal framework that comprises of Disaster Management (DM) Act 2005 and the internal doctrinal framework of the armed forces. The introductory chapter reviews the evolution of disaster management frameworks, both globally and nationally. The subsequent chapter reviews the literature on positing the military within the legal frameworks of countries with long history of disaster response, and brings out the prominent challenges to military participation. The third chapter on methodology explains the rationale of an inductive approach with an iterative data collection method used in this thesis. Chapter 4 examines the legal framework of disaster response in India. It also presents a 30-year (1988-2018) database of armed forces involvement in disaster response in terms of distribution of relief material, evacuation of stranded people, etc. It finds that contrary to the aim of the DM Act, the dependence on armed forces has increased both in terms of extent and frequency of military deployment. A comparison of military and NDRF operations shows NDRF‘s inadequacies in terms of its total number of personnel and geographical location. Chapter 5 examines the internal Service doctrines of India‘s armed forces with respect to their role in DM. The subsequent two chapters cover three case studies, viz., Uttarakhand 2013, Srinagar 2014 and Chennai 2015. These case studies examine airpower employment in settings that offer diversity in socio-political contexts and technical challenges for state agencies in adequately absorbing the potential of airpower to deliver effective and efficient response. The case studies further reaffirm the pre-eminent and irreplaceable role of airpower in disaster response. The systemic issues of civil-military coordination that directly impinge on efficient and effective utilisation of airpower are key results of these case studies. The final chapter (chapter 8) summarises learnings and lessons learnt, concluding with recommendations of the study. The thesis underscores the critical need for policymakers to re-define the role of military within the DM framework and for military planners to re-examine own training and operational doctrines to play an effective role in disaster management.

Key Words: Disaster Management, Disaster Response, Disasters, Natural Hazards and Military in Disaster Response.