More than 2,700 border pillars along India's open border with Nepal have either gone "missing" or are "damaged", setting alarm bells ringing in the internal security establishment of the country.
The condition of these crucial security structures is not only bad along this fence-less 1,751-km long border on the eastern flank of the country, but also along the Bhutan frontier where close to 900 border pillars are either damaged or have simply vanished.
According to a latest confidential report sent by the field formations of security agencies to the ministry of home affairs (updated till June, 2014), a total of 1,451 border pillars are "missing" while 1,282 have been "damaged" along the Indo-Nepal border over a period of time.
This frontier, notorious for the movement of smugglers and terrorists, has a total of 6,402 such structures, which are used by border guarding force SSB as a guide for patrolling and area domination.
In the absence of these structures, the SSB troops, for some time now, have begun using grid references on their GPS devices or marking local landmarks to patrol the Indian side.
The report, accessed by PTI, mentions that due to lack of border pillars, there have been adverse encroachments at at least 14 locations in the Indian territory while the same number of these exist on the Nepalese side.
Worried over the issue, Home Ministry recently got in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and decided that the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) will undertake repair and maintenance of these structures which till now was the job of the respective border district administrations.
When contacted, SSB Inspector General (Operations and Intelligence) Somesh Goyal confirmed that the paramilitary has indeed been asked to take up the task.
"We have been recently told by the Home Ministry to start repair and maintenance of the border pillars along both the Nepal and Bhutan borders," he told PTI. A border pillar, on an unfenced frontier, is the most important security landmark as it defines the exclusive territory of the respective country and the 100-metre area parallel to this is considered 'no man's land'.
The report goes on to state that out of the total 1,705 border pillars on the Indo-Bhutan border, 448 are "missing" while an equal number of these are "damaged". India shares a 699-km open border with Bhutan.
Sources, quoting the report, said that most of the pillars are damaged or have gone missing due to a number of natural and man-made factors.
"A maximum of 969 border pillars missing along the Nepal border are in the state of Bihar and most of them have either been damaged because of rains and thunderstorms while some have been damaged by human activity," the sources said.
As per the 'bilateral field mechanism' operational between India and the two eastern neighbours, the task of maintaining 'even' number of border pillars is with India while the 'odd' ones are the responsibility of the neighbour.
The home ministry, in a communication of June 30 this year, said that "SSB should undertake the work (of repair and maintenance of border pillars) in close consultation and in agreement with all stakeholders, including the respective DMs from both sides and officials of the survey departments of both sides."
The MEA, the home ministry said, "will allocate necessary funds for construction and repair of border pillars." The border pillars along both the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders are tall white-coloured cylindrical structures made of cement and stone bearing the names of both the countries.