Two killed as Second World War-era bomb explodes during rubbish pit dig in India

Locals worry about leftover ordnance often unearthed during construction works

Last year, 122 unexploded Second World War tank shells were unearthed when an excavator was levelling a plot of land for housing. Photo: Handout
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An explosion triggered by a decades-old bomb killed two brothers in a remote village in India’s north-east.

The area was the site of a key battle between warring British and Japanese forces during the Second World War.

Lalsangmuon Gangte, 27, and his younger brother Lienkhogin Gangte, 23, died on Wednesday after the unexploded ordnance went off as they dug a rubbish pit in the back garden of their home in the Moreh district of Manipur state.

Police said the brothers hit the munition with a spade, triggering an explosion and killing them on the spot.

Authorities have secured the area to search for and clear any other leftover munitions.

“They were digging a garbage pit when they accidentally hit an antique bomb from the Second World War era with their spades,” M Amit, a senior police officer in Morah, told The National.

Moreh, which shares its border with Myanmar – previously called Burma – is about 100 kilometres from the state capital Imphal and was a key ammunition depot for the British in the war to stop a Japanese advance from Burma into British India.

The Battle of Imphal, a fierce three-month-long confrontation in March of 1944 between British and Japanese forces, is considered a turning point in the Second World War that forced the Japanese to retreat from the Indian subcontinent.

About 60,000 Japanese soldiers died or went missing while 16,000 men from British forces – including Manipuris and soldiers from African colonies – were killed in the battle.

But more than seven decades after the war, locals are worried about the dangers posed by leftover ordnance that is often unearthed during construction works.

Last year, 122 unexploded Second World War tank ammunition was found in the area during digging for the construction of a house. About 90 bombs were recovered in 2016.

Activists say the older generations from the tribal region diffused the bombs on their own and used the metal for making axes, and gunpowder for crude bombs for fishing.

Arambam Angamba, a self-taught historian from Manipur and co-founder of the Second World War Imphal Campaign Foundation, that promotes the study of such sites, said the dangers of stumbling upon unexploded bombs is increasing as the region experiences a population and construction boom.

“The cases are increasing as people are digging and excavating more to build houses. It is becoming dangerous for people, day by day,” Mr Angamba told The National.

“Government should come up with a policy to either unearth these bombs or sensitise people,” he said.

Updated: November 01, 2021, 10:40 AM