The Central Public Works Department cried off and the Army wanted
out. So the Border Security Force was left with little choice but to step
in, brave the odds and fence the border with Pakistan in the Jammu region.
KAVITA SURI reports
Cramped inside his bullet-proof excavator on the Border Out Post
(BOP) Nikowal just opposite Pakistan’s firing outpost Pipal Morcha (Umranwali)
in Kathua sub-sector of the International Border last fortnight, Ramesh
Kumar, a BSF jawan working on the border fencing project, was feeling suffocated
in the bright afternoon sun when he opened the door of his excavator for
fresh whiff of breeze. As soon as he opened the door, he was hit by a volley
of bullets from across the border resulting in severe bullet injuries on
his left hand, palms and left shoulder. Immediately, he was evacuated to
the hospital where he is battling for life. But Ramesh is among thousands
of such BSF men who run the risk of their lives. Since the border fencing
project on the 187.5 km International Border (IB) between India and Pakistan
was taken up, a total of six of them have died and at least 60 others have
suffered bullet injuries.
Even though the tension between the Border Security Force and
the BDR on the north-eastern border of India has eased off with the Bangladesh
accepting its illegal immigrants, but the International Border in Jammu
and Kashmir is still alive with heavy fire and mortars being exchanged
everyday and poor hapless border villagers getting caught in the fire.
Pakistan has continuously been firing heavily all along the IB in Jammu
region with the aim to thwart border fencing, the work on which is in full
swing for the past few months Infact, at least 2500- 3000 rounds are fired
everyday on the IB and on many days, the level of firing from across the
border by Pakistani rangers even goes up to 5000 rounds.
Eyeing on 210-km International Border in Jammu region whom Pakistan
considers as just a “Working Boundary” since it calls the entire state
of Jammu and Kashmir a disputed territory, hurdles are being created in
the border fencing project initiated by India. Braving persistent shelling
and firing from the Pakistani side, the BSF however has fenced 40
km of the border in Jammu after completing the process in Punjab and Rajasthan.
Mending fences with the enemy, however hasn’t been an easy job. It meant
staring death in the face. The task entails not only grit and determination
but some clever thinking, because the Rangers, Pakistani border guards,
had foiled all previous efforts of Central Public Works Department (CPWD)
to seal off the border .The BSF, however, took up the challenge applying
a cumbersome but effective technique which entailed raising
an impregnable defensive wall for the fence to materialize.
The result is there for every body to see. Standing on this side of
the fence, one could not help admire and marvel at the perfect execution
of the fencing work by the BSF. The admiration grows all the more when
one takes into account the fact that the BSF did not have the necessary
expertise to complete the hazardous work without the help of agencies like
CPWD. So far 40 kms have been effectively fenced. Work is in progress on
the 30 kms second phase that is expected to be completed by 31 March 2003.
By June 2003, about fifty percent of the fencing work will be completed
(approximately 85 kms) and it will take at least two more years to the
BSF to complete this job. The fencing will not only frustrate the Pakistanis
who exploit the loopholes on the IB to send militants, smugglers and other
illegal entrants into Jammu and Kashmir which has been witnessing proxy
war for the past 13 years, but it would also help troops concentrate on
the infiltration routes on the line of control (LoC) in Pooch and Rajouri
Abandoned by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) which has to
its credit the fencing of the Rajasthan and Punjab borders, the fencing
of this border in troubled state was always a headache for the Border security
Force (BSF) and the Army alike due to the unabated influx of militants
from across the border. When work on the fencing project was started in
July 1995 for the first time, the CPWD took up the job taken in 20 kms
of stretch from Border Out Post (BoP) Alfa Machial to Abdullian but it
had to be suspended due to heavy Pakistan firing from across the border.
Following heavy firing by Pakistani rangers, the labourers and contractors
engaged by the CPWD fled. The work suffered and remained suspended for
quite some time.
After the CPWD fled, the Centre shifted the fencing material used for
making fences, including barbed wires and floodlights from Jammu to Rajasthan
as the work along the Indo-Pak border was in progress there at that time.
Material worth cores of rupees was getting rusted in the stores in Jammu
for the past so many years and it was in early March that the Centre felt
the need to fence the border for the purpose of checking infiltration and
arms smuggling from across the border. It discussed the matter with the
Defence ministry and it was decided that the Army would take up the project.
However, army even did not want to do it leaving the BSF with no other
choice but to complete the work itself.
Challenges for taking up the task were immense for the Border Security
Force. Firstly, since the CPWD has not been involved in the project, the
BSF authorities had no separate funds to be utilized for the fencing project.
Then they had no such good technical expertise as the Army and the CPWD
has got. There is just one small Junior engineer with each battalion.
“It was a challenging task, which we accepted. Initially, our jawans
fenced the IB ourselves because the labourers we afraid of being killed.
But when they saw how safely we were working without suffering any causalities
they came forward,” said Mr Dileep Trivedi, Inspector General, Border Security
Force (BSF), Jammu Frontier.
Learning a lot from its fencing experience in Punjab, the BSF improved
its design, including creating concrete platform and also raising bunds.
Tactically it proved fruitful to the BSF units patrolling their respective
areas without being noticed by the enemy troops along the border. Though
six jawans got killed in the very first year of work only, but still keeping
in view the heavy volume of fire from across the International Border,
they were lucky that there had very few casualties. Thanks to the protective
shield which has earned the sobriquet of “Great Wall of India”. The
wall is raised using excavators with bulletproof chamber for the driver.
The excavator first digs a wide ditch heaping soil on one side to raise
a banking. As the excavator proceeds, lifting tons of soil, the banking
gets extended in the form of wall-like structure. The height of the wall
is kept such that the when the excavator operates except for its tusk,
which lifts the soil, nothing is visible to the peeping Rangers from the
outposts with the aid of binoculars. Behind the wall, fencing takes place.
BSF is now doing the work and providing protection to the men at work.
Various gadgets and bullet-proof tractors are being used to save the workers
from Pakistani bullets. Despite the hostile working conditions, said the
IG BSF , further work on fencing was continuing and the BSF has devised
a mechanism to avoid casualties. “To evade heavy volume of unprovoked firing
we have got bullet-proof evacuators, bullet-proof dozers and many other
such things which help them evading Pakistani fire., Infact, we have been
innovating and improving upon the things as per our requirement,” said
Mr Trivedi, an IPS Officer of 1978 batch from UP Cadre who has a vast experience
of serving various intelligence agencies like IB and has held many important
postings in the security agencies.
Work has been divided among the seven battalions of the Border Security
Force along the IB to ensure and supervise the fencing task in their own
area of operation. The flood lights in the area fenced so far have also
been fitted and gates constructed to provide outlets to the farmers to
work in their fields on that side of the fencing and perform other agriculture
activities. Fencing is being conducted not along the zero line but about
500 to 800 metres inside the border. Work is in progress in several areas
like R S Pura, Ramgarh, Samba and Akhnoor sub-sectors. A long stretch of
fencing alongwith the flood-lights has been completed in Basantar and Devak
area in between Ramgarh and Samba. Additional observatory posts have also
been created and a strict vigil is being maintained to check infiltration
and any misadventure by the enemy troops.
"The fencing is not regular like and running from one end to the other
but every battalion has taken up the area ranging from 5 to 8 kms with
in their area of responsibility," said Mr Trivedi.
Fencing in Jammu is different from that of Punjab as in Jammu as they
are filling the portion between the two lines of fencing with concrete.
The concrete portions restricts the growing of Congress grass which could
help the BSF to check infiltration and on any attempt to cut the fence.
The height of the pillars of barbed wire fencing remains the same (ten
feet) as it is along Punjab border, but the foot of the pillars in the
ground are made concrete and the concrete flooring is being done about
seven feet in width along the fencing platform. It will make more difficult
conditions for the smugglers and other infiltrators/ exfiltrators and ultras
to carry on any sabotage or to indulge in any subversive activity. At some
points, to facilitate the entry of farmers into their filed , gates are
being installed. In Punjab the fencing is hardly 150 metres behind the
zero line but here in Jammu sector, the work has been initiated much more
inside the IB. Though the project cost has gone high as compared to Punjab
border-fencing per kilometer but this work along IB is an improved version
of fencing along Punjab border with Pakistan. So far 15 kms of the fence
have been fully electrified for illumination during nights. The flood lighting
has been done as a force multiplier to check infiltration and other activities.
There has been provision to pass high electric current through the middle
line of the fencing, especially during nights. The fencing, in fact, is
being done in three rows. The inner and outer row of the fencing will have
ten feet height with 22 wires while the middle one will be about four feet
along with ring wire. Tall flood light poles have been erected all along
the fencing which lits up about 200 meters of the area observing clear
movement of any type during pitch dark nights.
The fencing will cost about Rs 23 lakh per kilometer including flood-lights
fitting. In Punjab the project cost component was considerably low. One
kilometer area is being completed with an average of 24 days and it is
being reduced to approximately twenty days. Compensation for the land of
farmers used by BSF for fencing, is being paid to them in due course of
Frustrated by the success since the work on this border fencing project
started on 14 January 2001, the Pakistani Rangers have now resorted to
the sabotage, sneak in the night and plant improvised explosive devices
(IEDs) to blow the fencing. Fortunately no labourer or a jawan has so far
injured or killed by IEDs. The BSF on its part has mounted strict vigil
to check the acts of sabotage.
In the past two years ago, at least five times serial-blasts (Improvised
Explosive Devices) have taken place on the IB resulting in the extensive
damage to the border fencing material. Due to these blasts triggered off
by Pakistani rangers and ultras, long poles meant for border fencing have
been damaged while many of these got twisted. The saboteurs bring
with them tiny small explosives attached to some strings and use these
strings in conducting the blasts which results in the damage of long pickets.
Militants sneak from across the border, planted the time bombs and later
flee towards Pakistan. The BSF has since intensified the patrolling and
is laying ambushes in areas from where the infiltrators get in.
The Force (BSF) has also completed fencing and flood lighting of two
and a half kilometer stretch near River Basantar in Samba sector, which
was one of the important routes used by militants for infiltration. This
route has been totally plugged and an important and shortest track leading
towards National Highway and Railway Track in Jammu region has been sealed.
River Basanter which runs besides the border outpost Nursery has always
remained a favourite crossing ground for the militants. If any militant
infiltrates through this river and follows the same track, he has to cover
the distance of only five kilometers to reach Jammu-Pathankot National
highway. This as also a smallest possible way to sabotage the railway track.
Inspired by the good work done by the BSF, the Pakistani Rangers also
have raised embankments to protect some of their villages vulnerable to
Indian fire. Across the Gujhno Chak outposts some 500 meters away
, the Pakistanis have also raised an embankment using the BSF method. Behind
that defensive shield, the Pakistanis villagers roam around freely in their
farms while the Rangers maintain guard.
1.Work completed in all respects -- 40 kms
2. Work in progress to be completed by 31 March 2003 -- 30 km
3.Target for 2003-2004 – 40 km
4.Target for 2004-2005—40 kms
5.Target for 2005-2006—30 kms
1.Work completed in all respects – 15 km
2.Work in progress to be completed by 31 March 2003 – 40 kms
3.Target for 2003-2004 – 45 km
4.Tareget for 2004-2005 – 45 km
5.Targt for 2005-2006 – 50 km
TOTAL ……………..195 KM
SUNDAY ACCENT (Cover)
23rd February, 2003