Inside a nuclear bunker in Berlin

Inside a nuclear bunker in Berlin

The sleeping zone, with rudimentary beds decked up one above the other, appeared more like a depressing hospital ward. (DH Photo/Rasheed Kappan)

Nuclear brinkmanship gives the Indo-Pak conflict an edgy, dangerous dimension. But have Indian cities even thought of nuclear bunkers, hundreds of which had come up in Europe during the cold war? Here's what this correspondent found inside a Nuclear shelter in Berlin. 

Reports indicate that about 14,000 nuclear bunkers are being built by India, all of them on the Indo-Pak border to protect families. The border towns and villages are within the range of tactical nuclear weapons in Pakistan's possession, although the N-option is now only in the realm of blackmail, say defence analysts. 

But decades ago, faced with the prospect of total annihilation by Soviet nuclear missiles, the West Germans had built 23 nuclear bunkers in West Berlin. However, each of these underground bunkers (called fallout shelters) would let in only the first 3,000 people, lined up in an orderly manner. 

Stepping into one of them in the heart of Berlin, this correspondent was instantly struck by the claustrophobic feel. The first step was the toughest: Getting into an air-locked decontamination chamber. Terrified by an imminent attack, the people would first be asked to strip naked for an ice-cold shower to decontaminate. 

The cold signboards that still displayed these instructions were clinical. Once decontaminated, the inmates would be asked to wear a yellow polyester tracksuit and enter the living chambers. Painted in light green, the chambers appeared to do nothing to alleviate the feeling of dread. 

Extremely limited food and water stocks were to be rationed. Filtered air would not last for more than two weeks. The bunker had bathrooms, a kitchen, a diesel-powered electric generator and storage areas. The sleeping zone, with rudimentary beds decked up one above the other, appeared more like a depressing hospital ward.

Despite three major wars with Pakistan and one with China, urban bunkers have not been a priority in India. “We have not moved forward in that direction, because nuclear exchange as a possibility is still too far away,” defence analyst, Air Marshal B K Pandey told Deccan Herald.

Pakistan, he explains, does not possess strategic nuclear weapons to strike beyond the border. So, it does not make economic sense to invest in nuclear bunkers beyond the border area. “However, China does have such weapons just as India's Mirage 2000 aircraft platform is capable of delivering them. Yet, the nuclear weapon is still a preventive tool.”