Just one chance to get it right

Last Updated 23 March 2013, 21:53 IST

Putting their lives on the line is their daily job. Carrying all the necessary equipment, they search jam-packed markets, parking lots, malls and vital points in the capital for explosives.

The bomb detection and disposal teams of Delhi Police remain busy throughout the day.

Being the national capital, Delhi is a prime target of terrorist and militant organisations based in and outside the country. With this threat in mind, a specialised unit, the Bomb Disposal Squad, was formed under the city police.

“Their prime work is to detect and dispose of bombs,” says special commissioner of police (crime) Dharmendra Kumar.

There are 13 bomb detection and four bomb disposal teams under Delhi Police;  and its crime branch is the nodal agency to handle the entire squad.

Apart from practising at the Police Training Institute, every year squad members are sent to the training camps of various security agencies — Central Reserve Police Force, National Security Guard (NSG) and the army — for 90 days to learn how to deal with live bombs. They are also updated with information on new types of explosives which terror groups are using to carry out attacks.

These men do not have any technical background; they are junior officers of Delhi Police.

A bomb squad team comprises assistant sub-inspectors, head constables and constables. With law enforcement agencies running public awareness programmes to counter terror threats – such as asking people to be on the lookout for suspicious objects in marketplaces – the squad's work has increased tremendously.

The men work round-the-clock in three shifts, and are always on their toes in case they get a bomb threat call. Some 400 calls are received at city's police control room every year.

Many are dismissed quickly, and many handled by other security agences. The teams under Delhi Police crime branch tackled 44 situations in 2012, and seven so far this year.

“As soon as we get a bomb call, we rush to the spot and first cordon off the entire area. Then sniffer dogs with our team detect the suspicious item. Once it is confirmed that it is explosive material, we use a remotely operated vehicle to check it with an X-ray machine,” says a member of the squad.

“If we find that it is a low-intensity bomb, we cover it with a bomb safety ring and then place a bomb blanket over it and try to blow it up in a controlled manner,” says the member.

Handling suspect object

Elaborating, the officer says there are three layers of processes before disposing of a bomb. First, the suspicious object is searched by sniffer dogs. Second, a visual search is done by the squad. And third, the squad uses specialised equipment to find out the nature of the object.

If circumstances prevent a bomb from being destroyed on the spot – if, for example, it is planted near a temple or a vital building – the police squad has to take help from the National Security Guard bomb disposal squad to shift it and dispose it of in a ‘total containment vehicle’.

The success rate of sniffer dogs in detecting bombs in Delhi is 84 per cent, through visual search it is 82 per cent, and searches using equipment have been successful 48 per cent of the time. Searches through a combination of methods have yielded results in 98 per cent of cases, the officer says.

He says there is no room for error at any stage, and their first priority is to save lives.

The bomb disposal squad under Delhi Police is a highly competitive unit, but still in a nascent stage.

It lacks adequate manpower and infrastructure, and personnel with specialised skills.
These factors make it lag far behind India’s best bomb disposal squads belonging to the army and the NSG.

Since the police bomb squad does not have technical hands like engineers, it has to depend on the NSG and army most of the time.

There are infrastructure issues. The teams do not have enough space to store equipment, and the offices are in a bad shape. Although they have the necessary equipment to detect and dispose of bombs, the teams lack the more specialised gadgets.

The sanctioned strength of a bomb disposal squad is three inspector-level officers, seven sub-inspectors, eleven head constables, seven constables, three drivers and a bomb detection team. But it is making do with two inspectors, four sub-inspectors, four head constables, four constables and two drivers.

The 13 bomb detection teams in the city are managing with minimum hands, not even half the sanctioned numbers. Due to this, an important unit of Delhi Police is comes nowhere near city police bomb squads in the US or Europe.

Senior officers say they are helpless in procuring specialised gadgets, getting the required number of technical hands and having a full-strength squad as the government has to take these decisions. Several Delhi Police proposals to strengthen the squad are pending with the government.

(Published 23 March 2013, 21:53 IST)

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