New Delhi: Quick response to calamities in the neighbourhood as well as in India is high-priority for the armed forces, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Sunday as India stepped up rescue and relief operations in earthquake-hit Nepal.
He said India`s reaction to disasters has become quicker and is available to help its neighbours in times of crisis.
Talking to reporters at the defence investiture ceremony here, the minister said: "Reaction of government is quick now... (earlier) we always used to provide help but maybe late...."
The Indian Air Force swung into action within hours of the quake jolting the Himalayan nation.
"Within the country and in the neighbourhood, the armed forces are always ready to provide assistance," he said.
Parrikar said the "comfort level" between India and its neighbours is returning.
"Whether it is about sending water to Male... or helping Nepal, we have a bigger role in the neighbourhood," he said.
He said "deep cultural ties" with Nepal rather than "strategic interests" is the reason India is showing a keen interest in its neighbour in this moment of distress.
Talking about Operation Maitri, the minister said the Indian Air Force and civil airlines are expected to evacuate more than 1,500 people from Nepal on Sunday.
"We brought back around 500 people yesterday (Saturday)... today (Sunday) we will be evacuating 1,500 Indians from Nepal," he said.
The government was also assessing the extent of damage on the Indian side, and the defence forces will be pressed into action to provide assistance in earthquake-hit Indian states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Parrikar added.
The minister said the air force was carrying relief material, including ready-to-eat food, tents, water and medicines.
"At least 10 choppers are in operation for relief and rescue."