Mark This Man
May 11, 1998
Crunch Time
July 6, 1998

A Ghauri Sight

IT might come one afternoon when you’re busy buying pastry at Wenger’s in Connaught Place, New Delhi. You wouldn’t hear any shrill whistle, the advance audio that precedes artillery shells. You wouldn’t feel any pain either for being 2,000 ft below an aerially burst 1 megaton thermo-nuclear device—80 times more powerful than the Hiroshima one—dropped by an F-16 means that you would be vapour in seconds.

When it explodes, you won’t know what hit you but people in Agra and Jaipur, 200-300 km away, will see the flash.

In Hiroshima, 100,000 people died when ‘Little Boy’ fell; 9,000,000 people will perish in Delhi if that happens, according to S. Rashid Naim, a Georgia Tech University scholar, who studied precisely this scenario. Naim based his estimate on 1991 census figures when Delhi’s population was 9,118,600.

Which means roughly one in 10 persons in the capital stands the chance of survival in a nuclear attack.

Everyone within a seven km radius will be killed instantly. Everything will be reduced to rubble. That includes South Block, the PMO, the Supreme Court, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, Delhi zoo, Jama Masjid, AIIMS, the five-star hotels, Nehru stadium, and India International Centre, Nizamuddin and Janpath.


  •  First, concrete structures will collapse in the impact of the blast. If you’re in a shop/house, it’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks. Fires will rage through the city. A single megaton weapon can cause third-degree burns up to 8 km away, and second-degree burns up to 10 km away. Within a 12-km radius the fires are likely to burn for 10-12 days. The damage will be more severe because we have very limited firefighting capabilities.
  •  Second, a heat wave—of more than 1,000°C—will sweep across. If you’re in the open, and wearing a half-sleeve shirt or a micro skirt, your skin will get charred beyond repair. If that happens, death will come easier. Remember, AIIMS has already been razed. That is if you can get there. Remember, roads have already been destroyed; traffic has jammed. And then remember, you’re not the only one: India has just 35 physicians and 74 hospital beds per 100,000 people.
  •  If the blast or heat don’t get you, a gale of nuclear radiation will. It can cover much of a continent. If you’re lucky, it will blow across the Yamuna and luck will run out for Ghaziabad and Sahibabad. Milk/water contamination. A 600 Rem dose of radiation over a week will cause fatal illnesses to 90 per cent of the population exposed. Radioactive iodine can cause you six types of cancer.Needless to add that the number of casualties could go up depending upon existing wind speed, population distribution and timing of attack, etc. And, of course, the number of bombs that the aggressor chooses to drop.

    A 9 am office traffic at ITO would probably be a “high value” strike. Says Professor Chari, former director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA): “Ground level detonations cause more deaths due to radiation than air bursts.” Radiation effects can be felt for more than three generations.

    Don’t say: “I’m not worried. They won’t get this far, and if they do I’ll take precautions.” As Bharat Karnad of the Centre of Policy Research says: “From Lahore to Delhi, as the crow flies, the flying time for a commercial aircraft is 15 minutes. Imagine what it’ll be for Ghauri.” Adds IDSA director Jasjit Singh: “Ghauri can hit Delhi within 6-7 minutes of launch. ”

    A similar strike above Victoria Terminus in Bombay would wipe out around 89.36 lakh people,according to Naim. A five psi (pounds per square inch) blast would raze Nariman Point, Mantralaya, Colaba, Navy Nagar, the business centre at Worli, Mahalaxmi, Bombay Central; even parts of Dadar, Bandra and Kurla.

    Researchers say it is more likely that given Bombay’s changing demographic distribution—more and more people are moving into the suburbs—an aggressor is more likely to make heavily populated Dadar the target of his attack. In which case the toll will be even higher.

    The casualties in Bombay will be higher because of the structural high-rises, higher population density. The flash will be visible in Pune. Says an expert: “In Bombay and Delhi, a very high percentage of national wealth can be destroyed by fewer warheads, since high-value centres are concentrated in small areas.” Pakistan will choose long-term effects will be stunning. There will be an outbreak of leukaemia in the initial 10 years before it tapers off. All other cancers will then take over.


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