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Army begins biggest operation to destroy deadly scrap

LUDHIANA: Mortar bombs, projectiles, grenades, rockets, detonators, artillery shells were unheard of in Shekowal and Kalewal village, until Indian Army’s biggest operation to dispose off scrap ammunitions began there in November.

Over 30 kms from here, 738 residents and 2,500 animals of the villages are evacuated each day by the police to the nearby Gurdwara and other safe places so that the Army can transport, segregate and then dispose of over 17,000 pieces of ammunitions of unknown origin that made their way to the centre of the industrial capital of Punjab.

Steel and other metal re-rolling units in Punjab had imported the scrap at throwaway prices between 1999 and 2004. They had not specified the nature of the consignment and only mentioning scrap while taking permission for the imports. It was only during inspections by Customs that their hazardous nature was discovered at a dry port in the industrial hub of Ludhiana in 2004 but it took nearly six years to start the process of disposing it off.

“Bomb disposal is always high risk so we take extra precautions to ensure the safety of the men handling the ammunition, the villagers and even the cattle. We execute six to eight blasts every day and the project should be complete in two months. The sheer scale of the operation has given us a chance to train our team,” said Lt. Col. Vinod Bhat, commanding officer of the 202 Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU), about the Operation.

The operation has been named ‘Saiyam'(patience). “We have been trained but each time a bomb is picked or placed there is considerable risk involved, that is why the remote controlled vehicles, telescopic handling machines, bomb suits etc are used, if proper precautions are taken there is little fear left,” said a jawan in a bomb suit as he picked a rusted piece of metal and carefully placed it on a padded crane. The scrap was intended to be recycled for the steel industry and had the explosives gone off while melting the scrap, consequences would have been catastrophic.

The ammunitions, weighing over 50 tonnes, was imported into the country in the garb of metal scrap to be recycled into steel. It was stored in five containers, four of which were 20 feet long and one was 40 feet in length at the dry port which is located inside a populated area in Ludhiana. Operation Saiyam will cost about Rs. 13.5 million and the authorities have levied this penalty on the eight private individuals who imported the scrap. Till now, Army officers have conducted over 60 blasts and destroyed over 1400 pieces. “It is only through visual inspection that we saying that there are about 17,000 pieces of ammunitions. We have not counted them physically. The number can go up when we take actual stock of the situation in the coming days,” he said. “This is a very tedious process and consumes a long time. Our officers cannot rush things and they have to be very patient. Therefore, we keep rotating our officers on different jobs so that monotony does not set in,” Lt. Col. Bhat pointed out.

The villagers have been told to keep away from their fields between 7 am and 5 pm till the operation is completed. Army aims to destroy the large calibre ammunition first so that the villages can be rehabilitates as soon as possible, “the cooperation of the villagers is very important, we have 12 police posts to ensure that once the blasts begin, there is no one around the area and until we are left with very small calibre ammunitions, we won’t take any risk,” Lt Col Bhatt said adding the most dangerous are the hand grenades as most of them are without their pins.

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will to survive is mightier than nature’s wrath

DAGSHAI: Destruction could not defeat the determination of Tsewang(14) and Kunzang(12), sisters who lost their family when flash flood in Leh flattened their home but they found a fresh lease of life when the western command of Indian Army adopted them. Presently studying at the Army Public school in Dagshai, the sisters were overwhelmed by the gestures of Lieutenant General S.R. Ghosh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Army Command, who met the two girls at Dagshai on the sidelines of the army school’s annual day celebrations and felicitate them.
Over 190 people were killed and another 200 went missing in the flash floods in Leh after the cloudburst. In the devastation that the natural disaster left in the Ladakh region, several thousands lost their families and were rendered homeless. The army was in the forefront of the immediate rescue and relief operations in the Ladakh region that went on for over a month. When Ladakh Scouts regiment of the Indian Army in which their father had served came to know about their plight, the girls were adopted and admitted to the prestigious school at Dagshai in Himachal Pradesh. Commanding Officer (CO) of Ladakh Scouts and his wife are now custodians of these teenagers.

Father of the two sisters, a soldier with Ladakh scouts died during the Kargil war in 1999 and their mother married his younger brother. On 6th August last year the girls lost their mother, step father and step brother as rubble covered the entire Choglamsar village. The girls survived the tragedy as Tsewang had gone to a nearby village Saboo to meet one of her relatives and Kunzang was in the school hostel. “The loss is irreparable and we can not make up for what nature snatched away but we will ensure that they get the best of education and are taken care of in every way possible. They will be provided the best of exposure to the world so that they can grown up as confident girls and pursue their lives, “said , Lt Gen S R Ghosh.

The girls get emotional and often breakdown crying while talking about the day when they were orphaned but soon the indomitable spirit and steely resolve of these two girls wins over the sad memory as they start to speak about their friends and school. “I miss the traditional food and my grandmother but i plan to take some of my friends to Leh and teach them the language,”said Kunzang who aims to be a cardiologist and Tsewang wants to become a pilot in the Indian Airforce.

Today, both of them are adjusting to their new lives, “i love to play basketball and study so that i can become a doctor,”said Tsewang. “The school is very nice and the teachers are very helpful. Both of us have made new friends and enjoy the studies a lot,”she added. A teacher at the school said that they girls were an inspiration to many, “Despite the grief and loss they have adjusted so well to their new life that all of us feel inspired. Army and the school provide them will all the comforts but it is truly their spirit to survive that has kept them going so well.”

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