Bunkers: Symbols of Shelter and Safety

K D Maini
After 2016, Pakistan started unprovoked firing and shelling across the LoC on civilian areas especially in Poonch-Rajouri districts in South of Pir Panchal, which has resulted in heavy loss of human lives, cattle, destruction of houses, spoiling of standing crops apart from harassment and insecurity among the border public.
There is no limit to hardship, sorrow, misery and problems of the effected people. However, they are not in a position to shift from their native areas because in the past during militancy days they were shifted from their habitations to two colonies established for them in village Kasba near Poonch town were 101 families of Kirni village were settled and Biryani Galli in Balakote area where 500 families from border villages Tarkundi, Sahola, Panjni, Ramlutta, Dhrupti, Bruti,Dabbi, Lanjote and Balakote village were settled by providing them a plot of five marla land, funds for construction of house apart from civic amenities created for them. However they could not sustain there because they were having no source of income, neither they were allowed to keep cattle in the colonies. Therefore these families ultimately shifted back to their ancestral villages near the LoC where they possess a house, fertile piece of agriculture land and cattle to supplement their income. In these circumstances, the natives of these border villages preferred to stay in their houses and demanded that they should be provided underground bunkers so that during shelling and firings across the LoC they could shift there to protect their lives.
About 204 kms control line is touching the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri. There are 143 such villages which are either touching the LoC or fall between 0-3 Km ranges from the LoC. These villages touch LoC in the border blocks of Balakote, Mendhar, Mankote, Poonch, Mandi in Poonch District and Manjakote, Dongi, Panjgrian, Lamdarhal, Janghar, Bhowani and Sunderbani area in Rajouri district. The natives of these areas and villages always remained in proximity of shelling from Pakistan area. The shelling and firing creates a number of economic and social problems apart from danger to life. Therefore keeping in view the genuine problem of the border people and to protect their lives, Government of India sanctioned bunkers for them so that the life of the people could be protected. It was expected that these bunkers shall come up at the earliest for their convenience but that has not happened due to construction in disadvantageous location and exposure of sites to shelling from across the border. Besides, it could not evoke response from the contractors due to low budget alloted to these bunkers. Moreover, contractors felt it risky to work here. The construction work has been assigned to R&B Department. Later on this work was transferred to Rural Development Department. Construction started with the involvement of beneficiaries, Sarpanchs and Panchayats members under the technical supervision of Rural Development Department. The process bore result as the bunkers both individuals and community started coming up near the LOC.
Deputy Commissioner Rajouri Ejaz Asad informed that 3131 bunkers were sanctioned by the Government for the border people of Rajouri District where there are 95 vulnerable locations that fall in between 0-3 km distance from the LoC. 1000 bunkers have so far been completed and handed over to the beneficiaries who are taking refuge in them at the time of shelling across the LoC, the rest are in progress and shall be completed before the next financial year. He further said that these bunkers are distributed in various vulnerable habitations, hamlets and cluster of houses near the LoC after assessing the needs and requirements of most deserving families in Manjakote, Doongi, Panjgrian, Lamb, Jhangar, Bhowani and Nowshera area. The natives of such locations are now feeling secured to a great extent and their confidence has been restored.
The District Development Commissioner Poonch Rahul Yadav informed that there are 48 vulnerable villages touching 103 km long LoC and about 78 villages are falling between 0-3 km range from the LoC. 1030 underground bunkers have so far been sanctioned by the Government against the demand of about 3000 bunkers. Out of which 600 bunkers have been completed in the District and handed over to the needy people near the LoC. The work in rest of the bunkers is in progress and expected to be completed within next four months. He further said that District Poonch comparatively suffered a high loss of human lives and property and needs more bunkers for the families residing in 0-3 km shelling range from the LoC so that each family could have safe shelter at the time of shelling.
Two types of bunkers have been approved for the civilians that is individual bunkers and community bunkers which are constructed in the center of cluster of houses, near the schools, health institutions etc. The cost of individual bunkers is 3.20 lakh while community bunker costs 10.50 lakhs. Eight persons can be accommodated at a time in individual bunker which are generally constructed alongside the house exposed to shelling. It is a one room accommodation and constructed on 165 Sq ft space keeping in view all necessary requirements of the family to sustain in it for a long period. On the other hand, the community underground bunkers are constructed on 600 Sq ft space with two rooms, bathroom and a lobby cum kitchen. 40 persons or eight families are accommodated in community bunker at a time which is constructed in the center of exposed habitation so that at the time of emergency the families could easily shift in the bunker.
Kafeel Khan a beneficiary of underground community bunker of Mohalla Rathoran village Gunthrian near the LoC said “The moment shelling starts, the whole Mohalla shifts in the bunker which is a safe shelter for them. The beneficiaries are appreciating the facilities provided to them and they can pass shelling period comfortably and with security.
A milk seller Bago Bi resident of village Khari border told that her house is located at the last corner of the village and exposed to shelling. Their house was hit twice by shelling, a portion of cattle shelter was also damaged and two goats were killed. The life of the whole family was on stake during firing and shelling across the LoC. Recently the Deputy Commissioner Poonch Rahul Yadav visited this effected area and on our representation he sanctioned an individual underground bunker for the protection of the life of the family. Now at the time of shelling we immediately take refuge in the bunker and pass the shelling period with a sense of security.
Shadam Khan Ex Sarpanch in Balakote area told that a number of families have availed bunker facilities. However the left out families which are still exposed to shelling and firing are clamouring for such facilities so that they could also take shelter in bunkers during odd events.
Ch. Shamas Din Ex Sarpanch of last border village Begyal Dara in Poonch area said that the Psychological effect of shelling and bombardment on the people is very severe, because during shelling hours their life remains insecured and anything can happen at any time. During Shelling hours children, women, and aged persons get harassed. People don’t want to be killed brutally without any reason. Innocent unarmed civilians who become target of shelling do not know the politics behind the shelling or the reason for their killing and they are not in a position to live a safe life in their habitations. Therefore, at the time of emergency bunkers provide them safe shelter and give guarantee of life during shelling. The life in underground bunkers provide by the Government is quite secured and comfortable. He demanded that those left out house located within the range of shelling must also be covered under individual or community underground bunkers scheme to ensure the safety of lives near the LoC. Bunkers have now become a symbol of life, security and confidence.