Kalewal (Punjab): Each day, over 735 people in two Punjab villages follow a bizarre routine. Rounding up their 2,500 animals, they vacate their homes early morning and spend the day at gurdwaras or temporary camps. Why? So that the Indian Army can destroy unexploded munitions!
The army launched Operation Saiyam at the Mattiwara forest area Nov 10 to destroy around 17,000 munitions (war scrap) of unknown origin and claims this is its biggest exercise to destroy unexploded munitions.
The exercise has been giving a tough time to dwellers of the adjoining Sekhewala and Kalewal villages in Ludhiana district who vacate their homes by 8.30 a.m., leaving their crops unattended. They return after 4.30 p.m. after spending their day at the temporary camps near the river Satluj.
The onset of winter has further added to the woes of the villagers.
"We understand that the demolition of munitions is necessary and we are ready to cooperate with the administration, but their approach is impractical. The cops reach our homes every day around 6.30 am to vacate us from the village," Gurjeet Kaur, sarpanch of Kalewal village, told a news agency.
"The winters are already in and it is very difficult for us, especially for our kids, who also have to get ready for school. Crops remain unattended and our whole routine is disturbed. We want them to change the morning timings to 9.30 am so that we get some time to prepare breakfast and complete our household work," she said.
Gurmeet Kaur, the mother of four children and resident of Sekhewala village, said: "Earlier, we never saw so many police and army officials in our village. We do not know what they are doing here, but every morning some cops come to our house and direct us to leave the village. It is very difficult for us but we cannot go against them."
The schoolchildren also complained that their studies were affected.
"Every day I leave my home at 7 am and return by 5.30 pm. I have no time for my studies. I have my exams next month and it is really difficult for me to concentrate on studies in these circumstances," Parmeet Kaur, a Class 12 student, told the agency.
The administration said it was trying its best to make sure that the villagers were not harassed.
"We are trying our best to make sure that villagers are not harassed due to this exercise. It is essential to evacuate people and cattle to avoid any untoward incident. We have stationed one doctor at the evacuation camp and are also providing fodder for the animals," Rahul Tiwari, deputy commissioner of Ludhiana district, told IANS.
However, the administration has not made any food arrangements at the safety camps and the local gurdwaras are providing `langar`, or community kitchen, in the afternoon.
When asked why the administration selected a place near the human habitation for demolition, Tiwari said: "I was not a part of the team that took this decision. But I think it was not appropriate to transport such huge quantities of munitions to other locations; therefore this forest area was chosen."
The operation was stopped from Nov 24 to 28 as the inhabitants of the villages had to harvest their crops and also two marriages were scheduled in their families.
The army officials said they were hopeful that the dwellers would not be required to leave their villages after Dec 20.
"We understand the problems of villagers; therefore, we are planning to give them a weekly off so they can remain at their houses and look after their work," Lt Col Vinod Bhat, officer commanding the 202 Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU), told IANS.
"Besides, we are trying to destroy heavy calibre munitions by Dec 20 and after that villagers will not have to leave their homes. We are expecting that this operation will be complete by the end of January next year," said Bhat.