Civil Defence, police may have difficulty meeting Muharram security requirements

Updated August 23, 2019

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Bomb disposal squad well-equipped but understaffed, police firearms and metal detectors are not in good condition. — AFP/File
Bomb disposal squad well-equipped but understaffed, police firearms and metal detectors are not in good condition. — AFP/File

The district’s Civil Defence department and the Rawalpindi police are facing a shortage of staff and dysfunctional firearms and metal detectors ahead of Muharram.

Although Muharram is just days away, Civil Defence is not prepared to make security arrangements due to a shortage of staff on the bomb disposal squad.

A senior Civil Defence official told Dawn that the squad is stocked with modern equipment, but only two people are available to handle it because of the staff shortage.

He said three posts for technicians and two posts for first aid providers have been vacant for several months because the previous staffers retired.

He said the department would have problems making security arrangements for Muharram in these circumstances.

Bomb disposal squad well-equipped but understaffed, while police firearms and metal detectors are not in good condition

“According to the security standard operating procedures issued by the home department, the Civil Defence department’s bomb disposal squad has to sweep the area before a mourning procession,” he explained.

Presently, one technician is working on a temporary basis against an approved strength of three posts. The official said a squad commander was working to check live bombs in areas where there is a security threat.

Two technicians are working after their retirement because the department does not have skilled staff to defuse live bombs, he added. The remaining posts have been vacant for months.

Drivers for the bomb disposal squad vehicles are also needed, as all but two of those posts are vacant as well. Five posts for instructors need to be filled.

When contacted, Civil Defence Officer Talib Hussain admitted that posts in the bomb disposal squad have been vacant for several months because the Punjab government has banned the recruitment of staff.

He said recruitments were made on a centralised basis and the Civil Defence head offices in Lahore could recruit staff for the province’s 36 districts.

He said there is no shortage of equipment for the squad, as the government arranged for the latest technology using donations from European countries and international donors. The Civil Defence received new equipment for its bomb disposal squad from the European Union, United States and Canada, and has set up a control room.

Mr Hussain said the new equipment includes a robot that can detect and defuse live bombs, and could also help people trapped by fire and smoke. He said it was operated using a laptop and is effective within a two kilometre radius.

The unit can operate underwater and amid fire and smoke, he said, but equipment cannot be operated without expert staff.

“We trained contract base employees, but security agencies asked us to hire permanent staff instead of on a temporary basis for security reasons,” he said.

Police firearms, metal detectors

Most of the firearms used by police station officials are rusting, with damaged gun slings and firing pins, and metal detectors are out of order ahead of Muharram.

The poor condition of police firearms and metal detectors have forced the senior superintendent of police (SSP) to direct police stations’ staff to ensure their firearms and metal detectors are functional, as Muharram is just 10 days away.

In a directive to station house officers (SHO), the SSP said it has been observed that most guns have rusted due to a lack of maintenance, and some guns’ slings and firing pins – which are vital parts of the firearm – are damaged.

In addition, most of the metal detectors at police stations are dysfunctional, and the batteries that run the devices are either weak or missing entirely. Without functional metal detectors, police would not be able to properly search any venue under the prevailing security situation.

Expressing concern, the SSP has directed SHOs to ensure firearms and metal detectors are working properly in five days and report to him.

A junior police official told Dawn that in his two years at a police station, he has only once witnessed an official from the armoury section visit the station to inspect firearms, which he said was eyewash.

He added that some police officials even use rope instead of proper gun holsters. When asked whether vital gun parts were missing or defective, the police official said some guns lack firing pins but no one from the station appears to care.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2019