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Biggest-ever peacetime relief operation

By Our New Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI, DEC. 27. The armed forces have launched their biggest-ever peacetime rescue and relief operation in India and the neighbouring countries hit by tsunami on Sunday. Over 30 Naval and Coast Guard ships, 20 aircraft primarily belonging to the Indian Air Force, over a dozen helicopters and several hundred Army troops were participating in ferrying the dead and the injured and transporting relief material, official sources said here.

The Government announced payment ofRs. 1 lakh to the next of kin of each of the dead from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund. The decision was based on the Central Crisis Management Group's (CMG) review of the emergency relief and rehabilitation operations and the magnitude of the devastation.

Later, the Union Cabinet Secretary, B. K. Chaturvedi, who chaired the CMG meeting, called on the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and apprised him of the relief operations. Mr. Kalam has cancelled his scheduled visit to Hyderabad.

Building on the gesture of the Vice-President, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, and the Central Ministers, all of whom have decided to donate one month's salary to the PM's National Relief Fund, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, issued an appeal, asking all sections of civil society to give funds generously. He has also asked Central Government employees to donate one day's salary.

Emergency plan

The CMG has worked out an emergency plan for relief operations and asked all fishermen who have ventured into the sea to remain there till further notice.

The Defence and Home Ministries are coordinating from Chennai the supply of relief materials to Andaman and Nicobar Islands and other affected zones. A Home Ministry control room here is monitoring relief measures and coordinating with States and Union Territories.

The Army has delved into its stores to rush relief items and medicines. It has dispatched engineer columns to rebuild bridges and roads in the severely affected areas. Troops have been sent to the Kalpakkam nuclear plant and other sensitive locations.

The IAF has set up five nodal points in the North from where it is rushing relief material to the hub at Chennai.

The armed forces are also lending a helping hand to several neighbouring countries. Four naval warships with relief material have already berthed at Trincomalee and Galle.

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