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India plans air supplies to Nepal

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

National Security Adviser JN Dixit today convened a meeting of top defence officials to discuss a contingency plan on air-dropping supplies to besieged Kathmandu.
Although details of the plans are not available, government sources said a proposal to carry out bread-bombing of the Nepal capital was worked out. Chief of Army Staff, Gen. NC Vij and Chief of Air Force Staff, Air Marshal S Krishnaswamy attended the meeting, in addition to Defence Secretary Ajay Vikram Singh.
In 1987, when Dixit was High Commissioner of India in Colombo, five AN-32 aircraft took off from Bangalore and with a protective ring thrown by four Mirage aircraft, dropped 25 tonnes of relief material in north and east Sri Lanka.
This was done to stave off an influx of Tamil refugees into Tamil Nadu, especially after the Sri Lankan Navy prevented a Red Cross flotilla with 30 tonnes of food and 38 journalists from landing on the island. The Sri Lankan government strongly opposed the airdrop and termed it a "naked violation of our independence".
India has consulted the government of Nepal on the issue of relief. As expected, the government of Nepal has said that it will seek help when it needs it. A top Nepalese official said there "is no cause for panic yet". Anyway, India is making contingency plans.
India's concerns are significant. Kathmandu is surrounded by three districts -- Dhading, Nuwakot and Kabre. All three have a significant presence of the Maoists.
Although the militants have not physically blockaded roads yet, transporters from India are extremely reluctant to let trucks pass through these areas.
Despite the assistance of the Royal Nepal Army, which is offering the escort vehicles under armed convoy and is continuously monitoring the roads for landmines, only 22 trucks entered Kathmandu today.Normally, an average of 800 trucks laden with supplies go into the country daily, of which, 100 to 150 go to Kathmandu.
Nepal has reported that it has 28 days' supplies of essential commodities, 15 days' stock of petroleum and lubricants and 28 days' stock of diesel and kerosene. The capital has enough wheat and rice to last till October. The Indian government is watching the situation closely, especially till Sunday, when the Maoists have declared a Kathmandu bandh.
For India, the situation is delicate. It cannot afford to let the Maoists achieve their objective of demonstrating that their writ runs not only in the countryside, but also in the capital.
However, anti-India feelings are never far from the Nepalese surface. If these are aroused owing to any show of force, however inadvertant, India may be forcing Nepal to look to China for help.

First Published: Sat, August 21 2004. 00:00 IST