Indian army faces flak for risking soldiers’ lives

Agence France Presse

New Delhi, May 6:

The top brass of the Indian army today came under heavy criticism for putting soldiers at risk in a gigantic operation to clear more than a million landmines laid along the border during a near-war with neighbouring Pakistan in 2002.

The Comptroller and Auditor General watchdog said that the manual demining was a result of the army’s failure to import hardware in good time after the 20-month military standoff.

“The delay in getting robotic equipment to defuse over one million landmines laid along the western front had led the army to clear substantial landmines

manually, with a high degree of risk to human life,” the federal watchdog said in a report.

Dozens of soldiers have been killed and hundreds more were maimed while clearing the mines laid across vast swathes of land stretching from disputed Kashmir to the northern Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan.

India deployed some 500,000 soldiers, heavy armour and artillery along its borders with Pakistan after a December 2001 attack by pro-Pakistani guerrillas left 14 people dead at parliament in New Delhi.

The national watchdog said that the military was supposed to have imported 40 demining systems by October 2002 to minimise the risk but failed to secure the hardware in time.

“The systems were proposed to be brought under fast-track procedures

indicating a time frame of six to nine months, and in exceptional cases, 12 months,” the watchdog said in the report which was unveiled in parliament.

“(But) the equipments were received at the (military) engineer depots only between June, 2003 and March, 2004, eight to 16 months beyond the date indicated by the army headquarters,” it said.

“The actual utilisation of the equipment purchased to defuse one million landmines reveals that most of the minefields had already been cleared manually due to delay in procurement of the equipment.”

Only 1,182 landmines were defused with the help of the imported hardware. So far, the cost of the imported hardware has not been revealed.

Military sources said detection of landmines planted during the 10-month standoff proved a nightmare because monsoon rains had displaced many that had been mapped during the mining exercise.