With an Indian de-mining team clearing the 107-km stretch of a railway alignment from Medawachchiya to Talaimannar in record time, the Indian Railway Construction Corporation (Ircon) has shifted gears on the construction of a railway line. Ircon is aiming to complete the sections allocated to it in a year-and-a-half.

When the ISO-certified de-mining team, Horizon, began its work about eight months ago, it faced a host of obstacles. “We did not know where the alignment was,” said Shashikant Pitre, chairman, Horizon Group. The LTTE had destroyed the alignment and bridges and had taken away the railway track. “The ground was heavily compacted with gravel making the raking to a depth of 15 cm quite difficult,” he added.

This was not the only problem. Over the years, there has been heavy water logging in some of the areas and there were metal remnants all over the alignment. “The presence of metals in such large quantities meant that we will not be able to make use of metal detectors,” said Mr. Pitre, who retired as a Major-General from the Indian Army.

There were other problems too. All the bridges, major and minor, had been destroyed. This often meant long detours. “We faced serious logistical problems in the transport of people and heavy equipment,” said Anil Srivastava, Horizon Project Manager in Sri Lanka. The actual de-mining took only 25 per cent of the eight months. “From this you can understand how big and serious the logistical problems were. The remaining time was spent on surveys, clearance and marking,” added Mr. Srivastava, a former Colonel with the Indian Army.

As per the contract, Horizon cleared 15 metres from a delineated centre line to either side. In places where stations have been planned this distance goes up to 50 metres clearance. The team said there were only three major confirmed hazard areas, totalling 18,000 square metres. One was between Cheddikulam and Madhu, another between Madhu and Manakkulam and a third between Manakkulam and Mannar.

Horizon, established in 2001 by a few retired Indian Army officers, has been working in Sri Lanka since 2003. So far it has cleared an area of 96 sq.km. and released a total area of 456 sq.km. for rehabilitation. In the process, it has recovered a total of 1,00,444 devices, comprising 44,000 mines and UXOs (unexploded ordnance).

There are two Indian de-mining teams operating in Sri Lanka. The larger of the two, Sarvatra, has so far released a land area close to 1,300 sq.km. in the districts of Mannar, Mullativu and Batticaloa.

During 2010 Sarvatra also cleared almost three times as much as its nearest civil demining rival, the British charitable organisation called MAG.

During 2010 alone, Sarvatra cleared more than four million square metres, destroying more than 40,000 explosive devices, said Brigadier (retired) S.S. Brar, CEO of Sarvatra.

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