In early August this year, the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, visited “Harami Nala” and the Border Observation Posts (BOPs) of the Border Security Force (BSF) in that sector in the Sir Creek area of Kutch, Gujarat, along the India-Pakistan international border. The aptly named Harami Nala (“rogue or treacherous channel” in English) is one of the most inhospitable places along the border. It has also been at the centre of cross-border mischief and exploitation by infiltrators. Media clips showed the Home Minister visiting BOP 1170 to take stock of the situation and he rightly averred that it is now impenetrable as a result of round-the-clock border vigilance.
According to a BSF release, the Home Minister laid the foundation stone for a mooring place at Koteshwar in Kutch and also inaugurated the newly constructed Chidiyamod-Biarbet Link Road and OP Tower in the Harami Nala area. Mr. Shah tweeted that he had inaugurated a 9.5 metre tall observation post tower equipped with high resolution pan-tilt-zoom cameras, to bolster intelligence-gathering capabilities. This will come up at BOP 1164, further up north from BOP 1170, along the “vertical line” of the International Boundary (IB). The great advantage of the new tower, worth ₹3 crore, and others coming up at BOPs 1165, 1166 and 1169 (apart from three more in the Creek area), is that they will provide live camera feed and continuous surveillance over the open stretch of water and mudflats surrounding Harami Nala.
These initiatives, together worth ₹361.35 crore, are being rolled out in pursuit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of a “secure border”. The Mooring Place project, with an allocated budget of ₹257 crore, will make a huge difference by allowing berthing, repairs and maintenance for bigger vessels, including the floating BOPs, thus bolstering the BSF’s capabilities in the Creek area.
Harami Nala is a natural water body, approximately 25 kilometres long that flows west to east from Pakistan into Kutch just south of the Vighakot sector, flanked by vast marshy mud flats that are affected by low and high tides. About 22 odd kilometres of the channel lie on the Indian side of the “vertical line” of the IB between India and Pakistan which itself is not contested.
The water body has some unique characteristics. The tidal waters surge from the Pakistani side and, over the years, the channel is extending further on the Indian side. On the Pakistani side lies the Chini-Bandh (China Bund, just north of Bondho Dhoro), built with Chinese assistance to prevent the tidal waters from inundating areas on their side. On the Indian side, there is a desolate emptiness over the entire spread of the Harami Nala, except in the rear areas at considerable distance from the IB, where factories that have come up to produce salt, bromide and other chemicals carried by mineral-rich waters.
The Harami Nala is extremely rich in fishing, especially prawns. Moreover, the formidable marshy terrain through which it runs makes it impossible to approach or patrol on foot even during low tide. Treacherous tides, morass and mirages are matched by scorching temperatures (above 50° Celsius) in summer.
In contrast, the Harami Nala has always been more accessible from the other side. Pakistani fishing boats try and make their way up the many small creeks to surreptitiously enter the Harami Nala on the Indian side, drawn by the plentiful catch. In the past, they did so with impunity. There was the added risk of infiltration by terrorists and drugs and arms smuggling.
In the past, the entry point of the Harami Nala on the Indian side could not be approached by the BSF personnel due to a lack of infrastructure. They had to wade through deep slush to launch small patrol boats into the channel from areas to the rear. This situation improved after a set of all terrain vehicles (ATVs) were procured from Italy and stationed at border pillar 1175, the last such observation post at the time. It also helped that special scaffolding was put up on the bank of the channel in the rear areas on the Indian side where troops could bivouac for watch duties and be rotated in the ATVs. Speed boats, tethered alongside, also began to make a difference in terms of preventing ingress by Pakistani fishing boats.
Such measures were not foolproof until an embankment was constructed along with a road to enable access to the very mouth of Harami Nala where it enters India. After 2014, the Narendra Modi government gave particular emphasis to border and coastal security. In the past nine years, the Ministry of Home Affairs has ramped up the creation of composite BOPs all along the border, including in the Creek and Harami Nala area. A modern composite BOP 1175 was constructed in 2016 and BOP 1170 in 2022. The construction of embankments and road infrastructure along the “vertical line” of the IB have enabled the new observation posts to come up between border pillars 1164 and 1153 in a manner that infiltration can be nipped in the bud at the entry points along the IB.
This is the first ever visit by any Home Minister. The BSF personnel in this sector, including the commandos (called Creek Crocodiles) and the force’s water wing, have benefited from focused guidance and leadership at the highest political level. When he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi visited several BSF posts, recalls J.S. Bhalla, former DIG (Ops) of the BSF. On one of his visits to the Rann of Kutch, Mr. Modi was apprised about the drinking water problem at the BOPs in Vighakot and the surrounding areas. He ensured that piped Narmada river water was supplied to the BOPs.
Sujan R. Chinoy is the Director General of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal