Kavita Suri

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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

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Edge of Reality

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 more effectively.

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 time. 
 
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. 

BORDER FENCING

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

TOTAL……………180 KMS.

FLOOD LIGHTING

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

Source:
SUNDAY ACCENT (Cover)
23rd  February,  2003

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