JAISALMER: At Shahgarh Bulj near Jaisalmer, the sand stretches out like the sea. A 32 km arc of the Indo-Pakistan border cuts through this part of the Thar. It’s a sandscape of shifting dunes, ripples and regs. A soldier returning to barracks from a six-hour stint at the border post can easily get lost should his GPS fail to function.
At several places along this arc, the border fence has long disappeared under sand piled as high as 90 feet. At several other places, the fencing has given way to the windblown sand, leaving gaping holes that are ideal for intruders. When the loos blow hard, an embankment of sand forms against the border lookouts and it falls to the soldiers to shovel it clear.
“We have to keep clearing the desert sand from around the border pillars to keep them visible. The fencing here is 12 years old and it gets damaged frequently. We cannot move around here without a GPS, our only friend. Should the GPS fail, it could be a matter of life and death,'' said a BSF deputy commandant.
Jawan carries several whips (safety flags) with them in case they get lost amid shifting sand dunes. If the GPS is of no use, the lost soldier plants the flags in the sand. The flags are visible from a distance and a sight of one in the sea of sand is a signal that a soldier has lost his way and help is summoned.
The fence along this 32 km arc is single and not flood-lit like the rest of the border. This again is due to the shifting sand dunes. The answer to that is to have solar lights. When the dunes move in, the solar lights are easy to lift and shift to another point.
The problem of vanishing border fencing went all the way up to the parliamentary committee on defence. The lawmakers paid a visit to this border earlier this year and submitted its report to the Centre, suggesting erection of a floating fence -- similar to the one installed on the US-Mexico border, which has a similar terrain like the Thar desert.
A floating fence, as erected on the US-Mexico border, comprises of 18 ft tubes, filled with concrete, strung together. They can be positioned mechanically at the exact border line and made to ‘float’ on sand dunes.
Following the visit of those MPs, the Ministry of Home Affairs asked the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to conduct a topographic survey of the Shahgarh Bulj area. The survey was completed recently and BSF officials here hope that an effective solution will soon be on the horizon.
The border force is also considering another option: dense belts of desert vegetation to stabilize the sand dunes. But that endeavour requires the assistance of the forest department.