Their first mistake is always their last -- by Muzamil Jaleel Back   Home  

THEIR first mistake is always their last. Their job: to tinker with the toys of death that are scattered over Kashmir and make them harmless playthings. But for playing with their own lives, the bomb disposal squads of the Jammu and Kashmir Police have only bravery at their disposal. Their equipment is obsolete and can’t combat the increased sophistication of bombs planted by militants.

There are 18 bomb disposal squads with 32 policemen spread across the state. As militants get more-state-of-the-art, the squads find their hands are tied. The nine-member squad led by Head Constable Abdul Jabbar at the Police Control Room in Srinagar has been working round the clock since militancy emerged in the Valley. ‘‘We go on a bomb disposal mission almost everyday. We routinely perform 15 to 20 disposals a month,’’ Jabbar said. The men have been trained at the National Security Guard training centre in Haryana. The lack of sophisticated equipment has made this already risky job far deadlier.

‘‘Our men manage with whatever is available, but we definitely need better equipment,’’ points out Senior Superintendent of Police, PCR, Ghulam Hassan Bhat. ‘‘Srinagar has turned quite literally into a minefield and militants use lethal explosives like RDX in large quantities,’’ adds Jabbar, who’s been in the squad since its inception in 1988.

Almost all equipment this squad has is obsolete. ‘‘We had a bomb blanket, but it turned fatal for three of our colleagues on one mission. The procedure is to put the blanket on the bomb or improvised explosive device (IED) before it is detonated as it is supposed to take the shock of the blast,’’ Jabbar said. ‘‘The blanket had a resistance for just 30 gms of explosive, while militants use minimum 5 kg explosives in bombs and IEDs. That day, the bomb had around 14 kg of RDX.’’

The squad also has a bomb-suit, but it’s hardly useful in a situation like Kashmir. ‘‘This suit has resistance for a bomb or IED with 80 gm of explosive. It takes at least half-an-hour to wear and prepare for use. Who has so much time in a bomb situation?’’ asks constable Ghulam Nabi. ‘‘Militants’ bombs are so lethal it is difficult to handle them. Most of us are trained but we need equipment,’’ adds constable Ghulam Nabi. Mlitants have been planting bombs and IEDs fitted with latest. programmable timer devices (PTDs). ‘‘There are chances the methods we use to defuse a bomb can detonate them. These are booby traps and militants use a lot of innovation,’’ he said.

The squad has demanded a wheelbarrow and bomb trailer so that human contact during disposals is minimised. ‘‘This will make us more efficient and safe,’’ squad leader head constable Abdul Jabbar said. ‘‘We have already given a list of 32 items we need. We have also been requesting for a bullet-proof vehicle.’’

Though the police top brass don’t deny the sacrifices of these men, they have neither insured them nor given them out-of-turn promotions as in the case of other policemen. ‘‘In combat operations, you can be hit by a bullet. You can get injured or even be maimed but in our job, it is instant death,’’ says Ahmad.

Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, A K Bhan concurs these men are doing an excellent job. ‘‘Yes, there is need for improvement but it needs money. If we want to buy a robot-operated disposal mechanism, it will cost more than a crore,’’ he said.

The squad members have another worry on their hands: they avoid being photographed while they are on the job. ‘‘We don’t want our families to know that our job is bomb disposal,’’ Ahmad said. ‘‘If our wives find out, they’ll force us to leave the police.’’

This article was published in the 16th April, 2001 issue of Indian Express with the title 'They defuse Valley’s bombs with bare hands and a prayer on their lips'.