Para Military

Civil Defence

BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 4(2) September-October 2001

Feature Articles

Civil Defence Capabilities of the Indian State

Sanjay Badri-Maharaj

Few discussions of the implications of nuclear weapons in the India-Pakistan context make any mention of the civil defence capabilities of either state. It is generally assumed that the civil defence services in both countries will be rapidly overwhelmed by a nuclear attack and would be as good as useless. This may well be true – we have yet to find out - however, in India's case, the state has had enormous experience in dealing with some of the most catastrophic natural disasters known to man. While these may not approach the magnitude of a nuclear attack, they provide an interesting insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian disaster management apparatus.

India maintains and trains a sizeable civil defence force and has laid down a reasonably comprehensive set of procedures and regulations governing civil defence operations in the event of war. While many of India's state governments do not implement these plans in peacetime, the fact that these plans exist and are periodically reviewed cannot be ignored. Moreover, as will be shown, the plans lay emphasis on rapid emergency measures rather than on a well-developed peacetime infrastructure.

In addition to the civil defence organization, India spends considerable money on a reserve body called the Home Guards and on the National Cadet Corps. These organizations do receive a modicum of civil defence training and are expected to reinforce and assist the regular emergency services in the event of war. India's huge police and paramilitary forces also have considerable experience in disaster management and would be a very valuable asset. The question as to how this set up will perform in the event of a nuclear war, however, remains unanswered.

The Development of Civil Defence in India

India's first steps in creating civil defence organization came at the start of the Second World War. Between the years 1939 and 1941, a cell in India's Home Department was established to deal with the subject of Civil Defence/Air Raid Precautions. A Lieutenant -Colonel of the Indian Army was placed in charge of this cell with effect from October 1939.(1) This officer was given the status of a Deputy Secretary to the Government of India and his duties included extensive touring to advise and help Provincial Governments in preparing Civil Defence plans.(2) Another officer was later appointed to act as a liaison between General Headquarters and the Home Department and to assist with technical advice on Air Raid Precautions matters.

It was not until June 1941, however, that an army Major was appointed as Deputy Assistant Director General - Indian Medical Service in order to deal with the medical aspects of civil defence.(3) It can be seen from this that civil defence was not taken particularly seriously by the Indian government. Despite these developments, virtually no civil defence plans or organization existed on the ground. It took the start of the war in Europe for civil defence to receive more attention in India and in July 1941, a decision was taken to create a full-fledged Civil Defence Department. In September 1941, India's first Director General of Civil Defence was posted to the Home Department. The Civil Defence Department came into being on 24 October 1941 when Dr. E. Raghavendra Rao - the first Civil Defence Member of the Governor General 's Executive Council - arrived after training in England. The Air Raid Precautions cell in the Home Department was transferred to the new Civil Defence Department and was expanded.(4)

Throughout 1942, the Indian Civil Defence Department expanded at a rapid pace as the threat of Japanese attack intensified. In close cooperation with the Provincial Governments - who were responsible for the implementation of the individual plans - a series of plans were drawn up to cope with the perceived threats.(5) As the main Japanese threat came from the North-East, most of the civil defence efforts were concentrated in this area. The Civil Defence Department was responsible form planning , advice and provision of equipment while the provincial government was responsible for the distribution of civil defence instructions and on raising of fire-fighting and rescue units.(6) The Civil Defence Department and the Provincial Governments did some remarkable work, but, civil defence activities in India were not particularly extensive or comprehensive. Compared to what existed before the war substantial progress had been made, but, compared to the massive civil defence efforts of, say, the United Kingdom, India's measures were woefully inadequate.

As the threat of Japanese attack faded, the Civil Defence Department was steadily wound down. In 1946 the Department was liquidated.(7) A small cell - a mere shadow of the wartime organization continued to exist in the Home Department, but for all intents and purposes, India's civil defence organization ceased to exist.(8) After independence, in 1948, the Emergency Relief Scheme existed as a cell in the Ministry of Home Affairs. This cell concerned itself with fire-fighting and fire-prevention and eventually led to the establishment of the National Fire Services College and the Central Emergency Relief Training Institute - now called the National Civil Defence College - at Nagpur in 1956-57.(9)The formal initiation of civil defence in India started in 1953 when a civil defence plan was drafted. However, this failed to get accepted and was drastically revised.(10) While the Civil Defence and Fire Service Colleges continued to run courses, for the first 15 years of Indian independence, there was no civil defence organization in existence on the ground. The Chinese invasion of 1962 changed all this.

As part of the massive rethinking and reorganization of India's national security policy, the British civil defence expert, General Irwin, was invited to draft the blueprint of a national civil defence plan and to give practical advice on how to meet both conventional and unconventional attacks.(11) Two manuals were compiled and circulated to all state governments for the preparation of comprehensive civil defence plans in selected high priority towns which were categorized on the basis of their importance.

The Defence of India Act 1962 gave the State and Union Territory governments with all the powers necessary for the implementation of the measures outlined in General Irwin's manuals. These two manuals - ' The Master Plan for Civil Defence in India' and 'General Principles of Civil Defence' - form the structural basis for India's Civil Defence Organization to the present day.(12) As regards the implementation of these plans, it was officially stated in the Indian Parliament in 1963, that while certain recommendations were implemented immediately, other measures regarding civil defence were to be kept on paper, to be implemented when needed. To this end, a comprehensive plan of operation was drawn up and directives issued to the State and Union Territory governments to make their own civil defence plans and to keep them, even if just on paper, in a state of readiness for their successful implementation in an emergency.(13)

Over time, certain states have drafted a number of other emergency plans to cope with natural disasters such as cyclones and earthquakes as well as man-made calamities such as chemical and nuclear accidents. These plans tend to be kept in a higher state of readiness than the civil defence plans since the civil defence plan allows for the mobilization of resources in a phased manner to meet a threat for which there is considerable prior warning. In the case of natural disasters, this warning is not available.The 1965 and 1971 wars provided some experience for the Indian Civil Defence Organization. Despite this, no major changes have been recommended and the civil defence organization in India continues as envisaged in the Irwin Plan of 1962.

Strength, Organization and Structural Foundations

In 1995, the Indian Civil Defence Organization had a sanctioned strength of 676,000 volunteers in addition to a small ( strength unknown ) nucleus of professional staff which is to be augmented in an emergency.(14) However, only 376,000 have actually been raised and of these, only 330,000 are fully trained.(15) The civil defence staff and volunteers are a distinct and separately organized group from the other Indian emergency services - i.e. fire departments and paramedics. At present, civil defence units are raised and stationed in categorized civil defence towns. These towns are graded on both their vulnerability and on their strategic importance - a practice dating back to the Second World War.(16) At present, there are 110 categorized towns spread over 24 states and union territories.(17) This means that civil defence personnel and expenditure are concentrated in the areas where they are needed most. This is particularly important since the regular civil defence forces receive only Rs. 65 million from the central government.(18) The Central Government handles all matters regarding equipment and communications. All the central government ministries have civil defence cells which would be activated in wartime.(19)

In addition to these volunteers, the Indian Civil Defence Organization relies heavily on the Home Guards and the National Cadet Corps. These two organizations are funded and, in the case of the NCC, trained separately from the civil defence volunteers. The Home Guards have a sanctioned strength of 573,793 and has a current raised strength of 418,493.(20) Unlike the Civil Defence Organization, the Home Guards are spread across the country and extend into the rural as well as the urban areas. The Home Guards were created as an auxiliary to India's vast police and paramilitary forces and have an important role in the maintenance of law and order as well as internal security.(21) In peacetime, the Home Guards assist communities in emergencies as epidemics, fires and floods, while their role in wartime extends to civil defence work as well as assisting the army in maintaining rear area security.(22) The Home Guards have a budget of Rs.280 million - considerably higher than the Civil Defence Organization.(23) The organization, since it is more geographically widespread, provides a veneer of civil defence cover to rural areas as well as reinforcing the civil defence units in the 110 categorized civil defence towns. Their training, as will be discussed later, prepares them for rescue and fire-fighting work. There is also provision for raising auxiliary Home Guards from the ex-soldiers population of India in case of extreme necessity - as in the case of the 1965 India-Pakistan war.(24)

The National Cadet Corps are another important source of manpower for civil defence. Their training will be discussed in some more detail later, but since the 1980s, 32 NCC officers and cadets are trained as civil defence instructors at the National Civil Defence College each year.(25) The National Cadet Corps Act of 1948 states that NCC cadets have no military service liability.(26) This means that they cannot be deployed on duties where they have to be armed - unless special legislation is passed. This, however, does not exempt them from civil defence work. On 9th. September 1965 - during the 1965 India-Pakistan war - the Indian Central Government drew up a list of duties which were to be performed by NCC personnel over the age of 17. (27) These included the following:(28)

(a) Passive Air Defence - including rescue work, first air, casualty evacuation fire fighting and removal of debris

(b) Manning of Civil Defence Posts - including civil defence patrols and look outs

(c) Maintenance of essential services - including motor transport, pioneer and engineering and water and power supply

(d) Traffic Control

(e) Manning Static Signal Installations

(f) Administration and running of evacuation camps

With these duties assigned to them, the NCC forms a very useful reinforcement for the Civil Defence Organization. This is even more obvious when it is realised that the NCC has 420,000 cadets in its Senior Division - made up of university students over the age of 17.(29) The central and state governments contribute to the expenditure on the NCC in the ratio of 2:1.(30) The budget for the NCC comes, in part from the Ministry of Defence - not the Home Ministry in the case of the Home Guards and Civil Defence Organization. It should be stated that the army regards the NCC as a waste of money.

In addition to these organizations, the Indian government controls the Central Industrial Security Force and the Crisis Management Group of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. These two organizations, while not specifically created for the task of civil defence, could provide vital equipment, training and skilled personnel when operating in an environment of either radioactive or chemical contamination.

As regards funding, the Indian central government maintains a sizeable calamity relief fund for use in the case of a natural disaster. This would provide a valuable source of reconstruction funds for post-war recovery. In fact, it can be said that the published expenditure on civil defence - Rs. 65 million - represents a relatively small fraction of the expenditure on a disaster relief/civil defence infrastructure. While little evidence of civil defence activities can be seen in peacetime, the extensive pool of manpower, combined with plans and an organizational set up, gives India to field a civil defence organization in wartime that is far better organized, larger and more capable than would first be apparent from the rather pathetic peacetime infrastructure.

The Civil Defence Set-up - Central and State Responsibilities

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has, under its direct control, a Directorate of Civil Defence headed by a Director General - usually a senior police officer. He advise the Home Ministry on all matters relating to the Civil Defence Organization and the Home Guards as well as regular fire-fighting units.(31) The central government has the responsibility for coordinating civil defence activities in States and Union Territories. This is done to ensure that civil defence personnel have a uniformly high standard of training and that plans are kept up to date.(32) The principal role of the central government is that of supervision and coordination - laying down principles and policies on air raid shelters and on protection in general.

The civil defence set-up at the centre drafts all emergency plans for all states and provides for the provision of equipment and training where necessary. In order to effectively carry out its assigned task, the central Directorate of Civil Defence maintains close contact with other government ministries for expertise on various subjects. For example, the Ministry of Urban Development provides technical advice on the construction of air raid shelters while the Ministries of Communications and Surface Transport provide communications equipment and transport for civil defence units.(33) Other ministries provide advice on evacuation, bomb disposal and on health and welfare. Each of these ministries has a small civil defence cell.

The Ministries of Defence and Railways are responsible for civil defence on properties owned or managed by them. These include ordnance factories and army cantonments as well as railway stations. These two ministries receive their advice and instructions from the Central Directorate of Civil Defence. The main functions of the Central Civil Defence Organization can be summarized as follows:(34)

(1) To coordinate work among the various ministries of the Indian government - including the State governments

(2) To lay down general policy for Civil Defence in India

(3) To prepare and keep ready in peace times, plans for training of personnel and organization of Civil Defence services

(4) To determine the manpower requirements of the organization by assessing the existing resources and preparing plans to remedy the deficiencies

(5) To ensure uniformity of practice and procedure and to indicate the action which should be taken in any towns as and when an emergency arises

(6) To build up stockpiles of essential civil defence equipment

(7) To prepare draft civil defence legislation, plans and literature on evacuation, welfare, precautionary and protective measures for the protection of life and property.

It can thus be seen that the central government of India plays only a advisory, planning and coordination role in Civil Defence Matters. The real responsibility for the implementation of civil defence measures in the event of war falls to the State and District administrations in the States and Union Territories. The officials manning these tiers of government are in the forefront of any emergency. They are responsible for all rescue and rehabilitation measures in the event of either war or natural disaster. They have considerable experience in the latter - not so much in the former.

Each State and Union Territory government has, under the overall control of its Inspector General of Police, a Director General of Home Guards and Civil Defence. As in the case of the central government, he is a senior police officer and is responsible for controlling fire departments as well. It must, however, be pointed out, that many of the urban fire fighting units in India are under the control of Municipal Corporations and as such are not always equipped to the standard established by the DG - Home Guards & Civil Defence.(35) Fire-fighting regulations are also routinely ignored.

The local governments are responsible for fire-fighting, maintenance of municipal roads, water supply, conservation etc. The Public Works Department is responsible for the provision of shelters, sandbags, trenches, salvage, repairs and demolition. The other state government branches - health, labour, railways etc. - assist in their various fields, as in the case of the central government.(36) All State governments have plans for civil defence against attacks - both conventional and unconventional - as per the recommendations of General Irwin. Most of these plans are kept on paper, to be activated only in times of war- involving mobilization of manpower and resources.(37)

The State governments rely heavily on the central government for the provision of equipment. However, their record in dealing with natural disasters is quite impressive - even when disasters strike suddenly. Moreover, in addition to their civil defence plans, most states have disaster management plans and schemes which are usually kept in a considerably higher state of readiness as they are needed almost annually. The Commissioner, District Magistrate and Sub-Divisional Officer are the ultimate authority for Civil Defence in the Division, District and Sub-Division respectively.(38) The District Magistrate functions as the Controller of Civil Defence, but in certain cases there may be a need to a separate and autonomous Civil Defence Controller to give additional assistance to the local authorities.(39)

The Civil Defence Controller nominates various departmental heads of the district as the commanders of the various civil defence services. For example, the Chief Medical Officer functions as the head of the casualty service and the Executive Engineer - Public Works Department ( Building & Roads ) as head of the Rescue and Demolition Service.(40) The Civil Defence Controller - the District Magistrate in most cases - coordinates the activities of all these departments in respect of planning, enrolment, training and provision of equipment.(41) In times of need, regular meetings are held to ensure the readiness of the various civil defence units.

The civil defence of a city or town is organized on the basis of its population as well as on its vulnerability. Any city/town having a population of more than 300,000 is divided into one or more zones of 2-300,000 people each. Each zone is further divided into two or three Divisions - each with 100,000 people - which are in turn divided into Warden Post Areas - with 10-12,000 people. These are further subdivided into Sectors - with a population of 2-3,000. Each Sector has one House Fire Party per 500 people.(42)

The civil defence structure of a town having a population of more than 300,000 looks like this:(43)

Zone ( 2-300,000 persons )


Division Division Division


Warden Posts - 1 per 10-12,000 people


Sectors - 1 per 2-3,000 people


House Fire Parties - 1 per 500 people

Civil Defence Services in India can be broken down into three basic categories:(44)

(1) Volunteer Services - provided by the public e.g Air Raid Wardens

(2) Control & Depot Services - provided by Home Guards, NCC etc. e.g Rescue Units

(3) Special Services - provided by other Departments e.g Engineering

In peacetime - the volunteer units are not active - the various government departments responsible for these tasks pay little attention to them. In times of crisis, coordination and mobilization are absolutely essential for India's civil defence plans. The service categories listed above are themselves broken down into the basic civil defence services that form the backbone of any civil defence structure.

The civil defence authorities in India are required to make provision for both control and sub-control centres. These are located in the various civil defence zones and towns and are to coordinate all civil defence efforts between them.(45) The Indian government believes that one sub-control centre can deal with 40-50 Wardens posts.(46)

These control centres are to be protected against both blast and fragmentation effects of high-explosive bombs. This standard of construction also gives significant protection against limited atomic strikes as well.(47)

As would be expected, the control centres would have good communications links to the various wardens posts and the civil defence emergency services. In addition to this, the control centres are responsible for the Air Raid Warning system. This includes both the standard air raid sirens - including factory sirens - as well as a more direct warning system based on telephone links. Air raid wardens also assist by using whistles and flags to warn their areas of responsibility.(48)

A reliable and flexible early warning network based on both telephone lines and on radio/wireless has been established in categorized civil defence towns.(49) Most states have communications networks for use in the event of a natural disaster - cyclones and floods in particular. The Indian Department of Telecommunications would be responsible for most emergency broadcasts. Agencies like All India Radio will play an essential role in any civil defence situation in the Indian context. As in the Second World War, the backbone of the civil defence effort will be borne by the Air Raid Wardens. These are unpaid volunteers in peacetime and would be responsible for all civil defence efforts in their sectors.(50) The warden is responsible for advising local people on civil defence, organizing self-help parties for fire fighting and rescue and reporting all damage to the control centres. Each civil defence division is sanctioned 114 wardens, including special advisors from government departments.(51)

The civil defence emergency services - casualty, rescue, fire-fighting and welfare - are all under the direction of the control and sub-control centres. These services rely heavily on other government agencies for the manpower, equipment and expertise for their embodiment and successful operation.

The casualty service relies heavily on the emergency hospital organization for its operation. This involves the use of ambulance trains to evacuate casualties in vulnerable areas to hospitals in safer zones. The Director of Health Services in each state is responsible for the various hospitals in the state - government, local, charitable, private and railway hospitals. All of these come under the emergency hospital organization and will be used in the event of an emergency.(52) This ensures that all medical and paramedical personnel and equipment is used as efficiently as possible. The importance of this cannot be underestimated since in peacetime, the Indian health system, while extensive, is extremely inefficient and badly coordinated. It is likely that medical personnel and equipment will be requisitioned for areas lacking adequate resources.

As part of the overall casualty service, there are provision for mobile and static first aid posts as well as mobile surgical units. The mobile surgical units are to be allocated on a scale of one per civil defence zone, with a 25% reserve of manpower and equipment.(53) The first aid posts are to be provided on a scale of ten per division - one per Warden Post.(54) Ambulances, which come under the control of the staff officer of the first aid parties, are to be provided on a scale of 2 per 5 first aid posts and 1 per first aid party.(55) This plan relies heavily on the mobilization of manpower and vehicles for the provision of first aid personnel and vans for use as ambulances.

Rescue units - eight men per unit - are provided on a scale of one per 25,000 people.(56) Drawn from men in the Home Guards and National Cadet Corps - as well as from police, paramilitary forces and the Public Works Department - the rescue units are under the overall control of the District Executive Engineer. Advice is also provided by specialists from various government departments - both from state and central governments. Equipment and vehicles are supposed to be earmarked for use by the rescue units - again, this relies heavily on mobilization of resources.

As can be imagined, fire fighting teams are the single most important element in civil defence work. The regular Indian fire departments are woefully undermanned and, in a few cases, poorly trained and inadequately equipped. In wartime, they are to augmented by auxiliary fire-fighting units - manned by Home Guards and equipped with trailer pumps towed by trucks. These are to be provided on a scale of one per 25,000 population.(57) There are also provisions for small house fire-parties, under the control of air raid wardens. These, equipped with stirrup pumps and buckets, are unlikely to be of any use in the event of a nuclear attack. However, they would provide an extremely valuable asset in the event of conventional air attack.

All states are also required to make provisions for a self-contained Civil Defence Mobile Force.(58) It was recognized that State civil defence units would have to reinforce each other and to this end, the concept of the mobile civil defence forces came into being. The Civil Defence Mobile Force is to consist of separate civil defence battalions, each battalion having four companies with 200 personnel each.(59) Each company would have the following four platoons and would operate semi-independently:(60)

(a) Company Headquarters

(b) Rescue Platoon

(c) Medical Platoon

(d) Fire-Fighting Platoon

It is not known if any states maintain fully operational mobile civil defence battalions, however, the Central government maintained (maintains ?) a Mobile Civil Emergency Force. This force, based at Delhi and Calcutta and under the direct control of the Home Ministry was well equipped and trained for all aspects of civil defence work.(61) This force was used extensively for emergency relief operations during the 1977 cyclone in Andhra Pradesh and its performance was found to be more than satisfactory.(62) In peacetime, the Delhi unit was used as a training school, conducting courses on rescue, fire-fighting and casualty clearance.(63) However, in 1988, it was reported that the Delhi unit was being wound up - perhaps because of the significant improvements in emergency services in the national capital and its surrounding states.

As far as the individual states are concerned, there is a nucleus of civil defence instructors and experts under the control of the state police and fire services. These have in the past been used for rescue operations beyond the ability of the regular emergency services.(64) They are apparently well trained and reasonably well equipped - including protective masks and clothing for chemical attacks/disasters.(65) It is not clear, however, as to how many personnel are available for immediate use nor are any clear details available about their organization - it is unlikely to be above company/battalion strength.

Civil Defence emergency services are stationed at civil defence depots. These depots, to be based at each sub-control centre, house first-aid, ambulance, rescue and fire-fighting services as well as mobile surgical units and canteens.(66) The depots are to be located at least one kilometre away from any likely target - this would assist in minimizing damage, even in the event of a limited nuclear attack. The depots are also to provide all the emergency units with air-raid shelters - for personnel, vehicles and stores - indicating at least some awareness of the risk of loss in the event of attack.(67)

As far as air-raid shelters are concerned, the Indian Civil Defence Act of 1968, makes provision for any Indian police officer or civil defence official to order the construction of an air raid shelter wherever and whenever necessary.(68) The Crisis Management Group of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board constructed a number of shelters for use in the event of a nuclear accident , designed to be blast and fallout proofed.(69) All military installations have underground command centres and major fuel and ammunition stores at airbases are buried deep underground.(70) The Indian civil defence plans place great emphasis on the construction of emergency air raid shelters. Particular emphasis is given to trench shelters - both covered and uncovered. While these would provide very little protection against blast effects, the trench shelter offers very considerable protection against the effects of nuclear fallout and radiation.

The Civil Defence Act also gives some indication regarding evacuation. Either the State or Central Government may order any area to be evacuated. Guidelines are also provided