India and Landmine Ban Treaty

Author: Major General Nilendra Kumar, AVSM, VSM (Retd)

Period: October 2009 - December 2009

India and Landmine Ban Treaty

Major General Nilendra Kumar, AVSM, VSM (Retd)*

Anti personnel mines are munitions designed to explode from the contact, presence or proximity of a person. They are indiscriminate weapons capable of inflicting grave injuries. They do not distinguish between civilian and military targets. Landmines have been labelled as silent killers. Public activists have raised voice against their use calling them as silent killers. It has been highlighted that they cannot differentiate between a friend and foe. Injuries caused by them have disastrous long term consequences.

Mine Ban Treaty1 commonly known as Ottawa process calls for a total ban on use of anti personnel landmines. States who are signatory to the process are bound to stop their use, declare their existing stock pile and to destroy their total holdings within ten years of their joining the process. Each state party that becomes a signatory to the treaty is obliged to ensure all its stockpiles are destroyed within four years of its joining the convention. All anti personnel landmines already laid are to be destroyed as soon as possible but not later than ten years of their signing the instrument. The treaty does not include anti tank mines, cluster bombs or claymore type mines.

Ten years of coming into force of landmine treaty has seen public activists stepping up demand for India to join the anti personnel landmine ban. Worldwide 158 countries have signed the mine ban so far. The treaty bans the use, production, stockpile and trade of landmines. The group of 39 countries, including India, have not signed the treaty. India has participated in the discussions and meetings leading upto the Ottawa Treaty. However, it has remained a non-signatory to the mine ban process. It abstained from voting on every pro-ban UN General Assembly resolution since 1997. Explaining its abstention, India tersely pointed out, “availability of military effective alternative technologies that can perform cost effectively the legitimate defensive role of anti personnel landmines” specially along with land borders would enable it to facilitate the goal of complete elimination of anti personnel mines. However, no detailed justification was brought in public domain to indicate Indian view point.

Use of the mines is deprecated by the activists on the ground of grievous injuries caused to the victims who are mostly civilians. Men in uniform are also exposed to its enormous damage. There is no data available to bring out injuries exclusively by the anti personnel land mines. According to the information submitted in the Parliament, Army’s demining forces suffered 1776 casualties due to mines, unexploded remnants of war and IEDs between Dec 2001 and Apr 2005. Landmine Report 2008 has brought out that out of 170 casualties identified in 2007, 81 were military and 89 civilians. It is also pleaded that the population is rendered incapable to utilise the land assets for fear of stepping on landmines which have been planted in the areas that carry no danger markings prohibiting entry.

India remains one of the few countries still producing anti personnel mines. Its stockpile is estimated to be between four and five million, the fifth largest in the world. Five of the Mine Ban Treaty Party states have reported Indian made mines in their stockpiles. The countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Mauritius, Sudan and Tanzania. On the other hand, India states that no transfer of landmines to these countries took place. 

There are many reasons due to which India may not be inclined to sign the Treaty at this stage or in its present form. This treaty as a legal instrument permits no reservations or deviations.2 It has no limitation clause and thus allows no scope for any concession. It is this rigid policy of ‘take it or leave’ which appears problematic. The security needs coupled with domestic compulsions of a state party may require it a longer period to fall in line with the regime by destruction of their landmine arsenal. Or a state sharing borders with many countries may be, due to security considerations, willing to dismantle mines on certain borders but not in all. However, non derogatory stance of the landmine treaty does not permit such a deviation. Suppose India were to indicate that it would ratify the instrument but requires minefields to stay on its western borders for a few years more. The treaty would not allow it. Or if India wants, due to practical reasons, to take more than 10 years to demine the existing minefields, it would also go beyond the text of landmine treaty. A provision catering for a request for time extension for such a purpose beyond the laid down time frame of ten years is to traverse a complex route. It is to be decided by a meeting of the state parties or by the review conference whose decision shall be final.3 Such lack of flexibility and tolerance is clearly an inhibiting factor in its total acceptance. Thus, absence of a reservation or a limitation option may leave little option with such countries but to keep away.

Anti personnel landmine constitute a crucial component of military arsenal required to promote the defence warfare. No substitute has been found so far. It is a weapon designed to delay the advancing opposing forces and give early warning of their approach. It is an essential plan of the defence perimeter in any sector or theatre of military operations. It is used to create tactical barrier and to act as area denial weapon. It is also employed as a practical weapon to deceive the enemy to divert him to the killing ground and as a surprise ploy. Thus, infiltration of Kashmiri militants is the main rationale for mines laid along the line of control between Pakistani and Indian administered regions of Kashmir as well as along the international border. Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) or the corporate sector have not come up either with an alternate substitute or a mine system technology having a definite shelf life. In this view of the matter, continued reliance on landmines, is a military imperative.

Acquisition of landmines in the Army’s arsenal is relatively inexpensive. No reliable estimates are available to indicate budgetary load anticipated in shifting to alternate weapon system and discard use of land mines. Further, huge financial implications impede and discourage development and adoption of a substitute weapon system.

It is also felt that the worldwide campaign to decry use of land mines was mainly led and joined by European countries and others who in any case have no unsettled borders. They were not using land mines in any significant numbers. Therefore, they did not face any risk in discarding their mine stocks. On the other side are United States, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan, Bangladesh, both Koreas and a few other South Asian States who have not joined the mine ban treaty so far. While the reasons for others to keep away from the treaty may differ in each case, India has actual issues of security concern which appear overriding. Certain portion of its borders have remained unsettled. Last 50 years have seen India dragged into a number of border wars. There is evidence that other states in the sub continent continue to deploy land mines. As such, there is little hope that security considerations in India would easily allow discarding of land mines as a weapon system. In this manner, political compulsions do not favour adoption of the Treaty at the present juncture.

Public society in India is yet to generate adequate pressure in its campaign to discard landmines. Indian Parliament has had no occasion to deal with this matter. There have been no discussions, debates, calling up motions or questions in the Parliament on the issue of land mine ban. There is no evidence of a public agitation or movement to induce the authorities to scout for other options. Media, too, has remained indifferent in this direction.

Indian Armed Forces have an elaborate and well planned drill for laying and marking of land mines. Troops are extensively taught and trained in Mine Warfare. Detailed plans of the minefields laid in their areas of responsibility are kept by the military units and formations to facilitate subsequent demining. All minefields are clearly marked. Placing minefields without marking and recording them for later removal is illegal under international conventions. Resultantly, the cases of minefield accidents are relatively uncommon. The injuries sustained by the mine victims are generally non-fatal in nature. Figures pertaining to accidental injuries caused due to land mines do not show any cause for unusual alarm. In fact, there are many other areas calling for greater concern in adoption of safety and security norms. To illustrate, India accounts for six per cent of the world’s total road accidents and 10 per cent of the world’s road deaths. Around 300,000 road accidents take place every year resulting in 90,000 deaths.4 It is nobody’s case to discourage use of roads or vehicles. Take another example, according to one study in Northern India of 11,196 burn patients admitted to a tertiary burn centre over an eight year period, 29 per cent were due to malfunctioning kerosene stoves. Would that justify a ban on use of stoves? Moving to another item, each year, fire fighters battle thousands of fire across India during Deepawali festival to douse flames caused by fire crackers. Is there any move to totally eradicate fire crackers? The figures relating to accidental deaths due to fire arms, train accidents, air mishaps or boats drowning are a matter of public record. There is no agitation to put a total stop to their use. As such, the casualties from anti personnel landmines have to be appropriately viewed in the context of mines being integral part of military weapon system. There is therefore, hardly any cause for haste on the part of the Government to move towards acceptance of mine ban treaty in its present form.

According to its declared stance, India does use mines for counter insurgency or counter terrorist operations or for internal security situations. Thus, use of anti personnel is justified as being limited to military use for the sole purpose of defence. Yet another reason for the government not to seriously consider adoption of landmine ban is the tight control on their production, storage, and use. India claims that all production is vested with government agencies. Three different types of landmines (AP NM-14, AP NM-16 and APER 1B) are manufactured by the Ordnance Factories under the strict control of Ministry of Defence. No other agency is authorised to produce, stock or issue landmines. As such, the landmine stocks and their use are easily not open to misuse.

Above factors have contributed to absence of any pressure on the Government to seriously think of alternatives. There are different agencies like military operations staff and the officials of the Infantry Directorate, Corps of Engineers, Ordnance Corps, Army Medical Corps and the Judge Advocate General Department who are all concerned with different aspects of mine warfare. DRDO and Ordnance Factories have a significant role to play in the design, development and production of land mines. All these segments are under the control of Ministry of Defence. Apart from them, the matter comes within the domain of Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Reserve Police Force and Coast Guard etc. who have their own areas of responsibility and needs of mine use. There is thus no single agency to articulate Indian security stance. A wholesome view on shifting to an alternate weapon system or mechanism would require consultation with all the stake holders. 

Landmines are not the only instrument relating to international humanitarian law which have found dissenters in South Asia. There are other treaties like Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and International Criminal Court etc. which have not been ratified by China, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh etc. India is also not a signatory to the convention on Cluster Munitions and had abstained from voting in favour of UNGA Resolution for an Arms Trade Treaty.

What then is to be done? Regional or bilateral process between the states could be initiated on a dialogue to do away with landmines in certain areas. Such an approach may gradually and eventually culminate in discarding use of landmines. A proposal for a joint moratorium by India and Pakistan could be brought on a fast track. The two countries produce 11 million landmines for use on their common border. The ban has been discussed as part of their confidence building measures. Defence scientists should be nudged to develop a time bound programme to produce a proto-type of landmines with a definite life span or a category of self destructive mines.


* Major General Nilendra Kumar, AVSM, VSM (Retd), was commissioned into the regiment of artillery in 1969, and later transferred to the JAG Department. He retired as the Judge advocate General of the Indian Army on 30 Nov 2008.

Journal of the United Service Institution of India, Vol. CXXXIX, No. 578, October-December 2009.



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