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How unexploded bombs are making it to scrap markets in Pokhran

By Prakash Bhandari
July 24, 2015 13:47 IST
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While the Army says it follows proper procedure to maintain a record of ammunition, it admits that due to the vastness of the firing ranges some fired ammunition may get buried in the ground and remain there without getting detected, reports Prakash Bhandari.

The incident of a bomb explosion in a civilian area close to the Army’s firing range in Rajasthan has once again highlighted the problem of civilians entering these ranges to collect exploded bombs and shells that fetch a good price in the junk market.      

The Army on Wednesday, however, put the onus on the police to implement the order of keeping civilians out of the area.   

Clarifying the incidents of bomb explosion in civilian area, the Army said that people enter the firing ranges without permission and pick unexploded bombs mistaking them as scrap.

Army spokesperson Lt Col Manish Ojha said the field firing ranges of Pokhran and Mahajan range in Bikaner district, Rajasthan, are frequented by civilians.

These incidents have raised doubts in the minds of people regarding the safety and security of defence explosives and the way in which it finds its way into civil areas.

But the Army has responded saying it follows proper procedure to maintain a record of ammunition and disposes unexploded bombs after firing exercise.

Last year the Army's had announced its plan to further expand its field firing range in Pokhran but was faced with opposition from the local Bharatiya Janata Party MP, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who claimed it would lead to the second displacement of thousands of families from the area who were already disturbed some 50 years ago when the range was set up.

The Army said FFRs are developed on the land acquired by the Army and entry of civilians into the area is prohibited. Army carries out firing in these ranges only after taking due clearance from local police.

Lt Colonel Ojha said that after a firing, the army makes all efforts to search and destroy fired ammunition which is found unexploded. “Due to the vastness of the range and force in the projectile, it is possible that some fired ammunition may get buried in the ground and remains there for a long period without getting detected. Such unexploded bombs find their way through unauthorised entrants into the civil areas and lead to mishaps,” he said.

As per laid down procedures, the Army ensures proper accounting of its ammunition, carries out destruction of blinds and clearance of range on termination of live firing. 

The contract for retrieving, clearing, collection and disposal of fired ammunition for the Pokhran and Mahajan field firing ranges are given to civilian contractors by the Army. The scrap collected by the contractor is his property.

The Army does not provide any technical support to the contractor for tracking, clearing, retrieving and collecting these scraps. However, the contractor is not allowed to collect or handle any unexploded bombs and shells.

Image: Army soldiers watch as target is being destroyed during the Indian Air Force fire power demonstration exercise "Iron Fist 2013" in Pokhran, Rajasthan. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Prakash Bhandari in Jaipur