As the security environment in the South Asian region remains volatile and the armies of three countries India, Pakistan and China continue to face each other backed by a force of hundreds of nuclear bombs the governments are gearing up for a contingency plan and preparations for protecting the citizens from nuclear catastrophe.
India has set up a National Disaster Management Authority under which a National Disaster Response Force has been constituted. Besides creating a well trained army of relief and rescue team post nuclear attack, the government is working on installing heavy bunkers for national political and military leadership so as to avoid creating a leadership void in the country.
Out of ten battalions created for the purpose of relief and rescue during natural or manmade disasters, four have been dedicated for the nuclear, biological and chemical disaster.
However to help avoid the fallout of the NBC attack the bunkers are being installed but only political and military leadership will be able to avail these facilities. The common citizens will be left to face their own destiny.
Unlike USA and Europe where many private firms have emerged to manufacture and market the bunkers for protection against the NBC attack, the Indian private sector are not at all in the field, whereas the Government response seems to be very tardy. In this background Indian citizens will have to face the brunt of the NBC attack as Government will find it impossible to provide bunkers for millions of citizens.
The Underground Metro train stations can be utilized as underground bunkers but certainly cannot accommodate all of the citizens and they certainly are not catered to provide basic necessities of life to thousands of people at a time. The Metro stations in European and American cities and also in China were designed for the purpose of giving shelters to people. Countries like Russia, China and Japan have underground cities, well furnished with many provisions. However, in India on the excuse of uninterrupted running of the government and administration, the leaders are worried only about providing shelters to their teammates.
During the height of the tensions with Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of tit for tat Nuclear tests and the Kargil conflict in 1999 the then government of A B Vajpayee decided to build nuclear bunkers for protecting top leadership by hiding them below the South Block, the seat of India’s power. The then Prime Minister called a meeting of the Nuclear Command Authority and took a decision in this regard.
Since during war, the soldiers will be in the forefront of the combat zone, they also need radiation protected armories, shelters and bunkers. With this aim, DRDO has started work on Project Dhruv under which new bunkers will be developed for soldiers to feel comfortable and launch effective attack against the enemy. This will not only protect the soldiers from outside attack but also help them cope with the stress because of monotonous life and that too in the fear of an attack from other side of the border.
Besides Soldiers and Citizens the ammunitions must also be protected from aerial attack to prevent chain explosions in the surroundings which will cause panic in the entire locality. With this aim the defence ministry is working on the proposal to construct underground shelters for the storage of the missiles, rockets and ammunition not only within the country but also at the locations close to the borders so as to facilitate easy movements of the ammunitions and missiles during times of heavy combat.
With this aim, the DRDO and MoD have zeroed in to select sites in Leh and Sikkim and along the borders near Pakistan. According to sources, after these projects are completed, the MoD will move on to other locations along the Sino-Indian and India-Pakistan borders.
The armed forces are reported to have around eight lakh tonnes of ammunition out of which around half have proper storage facilities. The government must move fast to protect not only the citizens and soldiers but also the ammunitions and missiles to safeguard the war fighting capabilities of the nation.
However, the priority of the government seems to be on protecting the leadership first. In US also the administration had created the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) at the height of the Cold War during the Nixon administration, which aimed to assure the survivability of the US Administration team in the event of a nuclear attack on USA. FEMA has been given the responsibility to protect major US sites of political nature and the Indian Disaster Management Authority has also been assigned to plan for adequate coverage of Indian Parliament and Presidents House.
Bunkers for VVIPs
The NDMA has been assigned to build nuclear bunkers which will be equipped to withstand any radioactive fallout with the facility to generate own power and fresh air. According to reports the plan includes the carving out a tunnel from these bunkers which would facilitate the escape of occupants to the outskirts of the city. This will have state of the art air filtration system which can filter the air contaminated with chemical and radioactive molecules. The government wants to ensure uninterrupted functioning of the government in case of a nuclear attack and when Parliament is in session.
The Chandigarh administration is mulling the setting up of safe houses for VVIPs. The National Disaster Management Authority has discussed the plan to set up CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear) shelters which are tubular structures of reinforced steel rings which can be placed 2-5 metres below the ground and can host 30 persons for about one month stay. This is totally sealed and has positive air pressure, with their own power source and water supply along with sewerage disposal facility.
Though with the end of Cold War, the possibility of a nuclear war between Russia and USA has faded, nuclear bunkers are still under construction in many parts of the world. However, many nuclear bunkers and military shelters and emergency bomb shelters have been redesigned for the use of common man and also for commercial purpose.
Some of the bunkers are now converted into clubs, hotels and private apartments. One such bunker was built in Moscow in 1956, which was 75,000 square feet situated 213 feet below the ground. This was operated for three decades, which had the facility of telephone and telegraph, air regeneration and water supply system with food and fuel storage facilities for 3,000 people for three months.
The Indian DRDO have been working on developing NBC shelters for field formations to protect the army battalions from mini radioactive explosions. They have already developed a nuclear shelter a decade ago and the army units have been provided with such shelters in important locations.
These include a shelter for 30 soldiers called Integrated Field shelter which can be used as command post, observation post, regimental aid center and communication center. Almost 30 persons can stay in this shelter for 96 hours and safeguard themselves against biological and chemical agents besides nuclear particles, though the shelter have to be away from the ground zero.
The DRDO has carried out trials of the shelter near sea, deserts and mountains and different conditions.The shelters can of course provide protection to the VVIPs and the nuclear command center. DRDO has already established a model NBC Hospital at Gwalior. According to a senior DRDO official these preparations are necessary to checkmate a threat scenario emerging from non state actors, nuclear pilferage and reactor accidents.
The Pune based Research and Development Establishment (Engineers) has developed almost two decades ago an underground structure made of light weight segments of steel sheets, which can be carried by men and assembled at site within 3-4 hours by ten men. This is made for personal protection from blast, thermal and radiation effects in case of accidents or in a combat environment. The shelter built for 100 persons can resist the air blast and radiation effects of 20 kiloton nuclear explosion at a distance of 1.5 km.
There are other public sector agencies like the Central Building Research India (CBRI) which is also engaged in building community shelters for 52 persons which can be erected in an open area. The engineers of CBRI have designed nuclear shelters with livable conditions that can withstand a nuclear blast and its wind effects and also help avoid facing the nuclear radiation. The shelters have been developed in two different forms Type-A and Type-B. Type-A will meet the needs of a community whereas Type-B will be good enough for a family.
Thus Indian security establishment is aware of the need and accordingly taking steps to meet the extraordinary emergency situation arising from the nuclear explosion. It is a different issue whether the government will be able to protect its entire citizen from the fallout of a nuclear attack.