After the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase, various air force stations in the region have tightened vigil. Field visits by HT reporters revealed that security of these vital defence installations has been beefed up, but in some cases there are gaps that need to be plugged.
Chandigarh air force station : Vulnerable, located too close to thickly-populated settlements
The boundary wall of the Chandigarh air force station is surrounded by densely-populated villages and slums. Human settlements have reached so close to the airbase periphery that a security scare is not ruled out.
As per regulations in the Works of Defence Act, no dwelling unit or permanent structure should come up within 100 metres of the airbase wall. The police and civil administration of SAS Nagar district and Chandigarh seem to have failed in checking rampant construction in the area.
The airbase is used to transport personnel, material and military equipment to forward locations, particularly Leh and Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, an airport has come up adjacent to the airbase and there is a common runway for defence and civil flights. Before domestic flights take off, planes pass through the defence area at a slow pace, giving passengers a clear view of the airbase and its important assets.
There are a number of points along the boundary wall from where residents of adjoining villages of Jagatpura and Kandala can track the activity of men and machinery inside the airbase.
Gurjeet Singh, who works in a dairy farm near the periphery wall, told HT, “We see security personnel along the wall only when a VIP lands here. Then the entire perimeter is cordoned off; otherwise, it is a free-for-all.”
He points towards a herd of goats moving close to the wall, led by a shepherd.
On the security arrangements inside and outside the airbase, Group Capt SK Bisht said, “Everything is in place, but I can’t reveal what steps are being taken to beef up security.”
According to airbase sources, there is electronic surveillance on the premises, but it is not clear how many of the CCTV cameras are functional.
(Contributed by Gurpreet Singh Nibber)
Ambala air force station : Illegal structures threat to security
Fighter jets such as Jaguars and MiG 21 (Bison) are stationed at this air force station, located along the Chandigarh-Delhi highway. A number of illegal structures have sprung up around the airbase and the population of nearby areas is also growing fast. Along its 10-ft-high boundary wall, topped by barbed wire around 1 ft in height, there are shops, godowns, hotels and houses. At some spots, these establishments share their walls with the airbase periphery.
In several areas around the airbase, such as Majri, Dhulkot, Baldev Nagar and Transport Nagar, a number of structures are within 100 metres of the wall, a violation of the Works of Defence Act, 1903. Recently, some upcoming structures were demolished in King Vihar Colony.
There are watch towers along the walls, guarded by air force personnel; at the main gate, there are CCTV cameras and adequate securitymen. The potential security threat is from overlooking buildings and the highway. On Tuesday, a meeting was held with the police and district administration, where it was recommended to the air force authorities to block the view from these buildings and the highway. It is learnt that a decision was taken to carry out sanitisation of area up to 15km from the airbase.
Commissioner of police, Ambala-Panchkula, OP Singh said: “Army/air force personnel are under orders to move in full uniform and venture out with weapons only in a military vehicle. The assistant commissioner of police (ACP cantonment) has been ordered to check encroachments overlooking the airfield and patrol potential ingress routes extensively.”
Talking to HT, Ambala deputy commissioner Ashok Sangwan said: “Illegal structures have come up around the airbase over the years. The due process of law will be followed regarding them. This issue was discussed at the coordination meeting with the defence authorities on Tuesday. The MC will be asked to take action against illegal structures.”
(Contributed by Bhartesh Singh Thakur)
Halwara airbase in Ludhiana: Barbed wire broken at several points
After the Pathankot terror attack, the Halwara airbase, located about 35km from here, has beefed up security at the main gate, but the walls along residential areas on its premises are far from secure.
The barbed wire is broken at most of the points on the perimeter walls, making this airbase vulnerable to an attack. The wire needs to be fixed at the earliest.
Even though the security guards at the main gate thoroughly checked vehicles entering the premises on Thursday, there was no security cover along the perimeter walls of the residential complex.
The air force has put up barricades on the main roads outside the airbase to make vehicles slow down.
At this fighter airbase, aircraft such as Sukhoi SU-30 are parked. There is electronic surveillance at the main gate, but not along most of the walls of the airbase. The airbase’s proximity to Halwara village is a source of worry for residents in the likelihood of an attack.
Due to its strategic location, the Halwara airbase was used by the air force during the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan.
(Contributed by Arjun Sharma)
Bhisiana air force in Bathinda: Unwanted entry points blocked by air force
The Bhisiana air force station, located about 18km from Bathinda, was in the news recently after leading aircraftsman Ranjith KK was arrested on the charges of espionage.
The spying case as well as the Pathankot airbase attack has led to heightened security, right from barricading and multiple checkpoints to round-the-clock surveillance from watch towers.
Spread over an area of more than 1,000 acres, the airbase has a perimeter of about 15km along Bhisiana and Virk Kalan villages, enclosed by a 12-ft-high wall topped by barbed wire.
Sources said the air force authorities had blocked unwanted entry points leading to the airbase.
There are no encroachments near the peripheral wall of the airbase as the district administration had banned construction in notified zones around the Bhisiana air force station in both Bhisiana and Virk Kalan villages two years ago.
Senior superintendent of police (SSP) Swapan Sharma said the district police were in touch with the air force and army officials to get fresh updates on security arrangements on the premises.
“Patrolling has been intensified in villages adjoining the airbase. Two bunkers have also been set up on the roads leading to the airbase,” Sharma said. However, no police guard was present in the bunkers when the HT team visited the spot.
(Contributed by Navrajdeep Singh)