Ranchi, Sandeep Pai: More than 15 lakh kg of industrial explosives, enough to blow up five cities like Delhi, were stolen between 2010 and 2013 from carelessly guarded warehouses across the country and made their way into the hands of Maoist guerrillas, illegal miners and others.
The inventory of stolen explosives includes 8.5 lakh kg of nitrate mixture explosives, 5 lakh detonators, 1.3 lakh cartridges for small arms/war rockets and 30,000 safety fuses/cartridges, reveals the result framework documentary (RFD) of explosives regulator Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO).
Giving an idea of the magnitude of the threat posed by the thefts, former Maharashtra director-general of police Rahul Gopal told dna that the explosives were enough to reduce five metropolises like India's national capital to ruins. Some of these stolen explosives have come from India's largest public sector company, Coal India Limited (CIL) and its seven subsidiaries, documents available with dna show.
dna correspondents were also able to walk unquestioned through CIL storage houses in Jharkhand and Odisha, evidence of just how readily available explosives can be to terrorists and criminals.
"If CIL's explosives are so miserably guarded, one can only imagine how it will be for other companies," said Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights Director Suhas Chakma. The central government has for the first time admitted that Maoists are using these explosives.
On December 23, 2014, Parthibhai Ghemarbhai Chaudhary, Union minister of state for home, said in Parliament that some instances of illegal use of industrial explosives by left wing extremist groups have been reported.
Further, according to data obtained from the ministry of mines, more than 3.72 lakh cases of illegal mining have been reported in the last four years. Sources in the intelligence bureau say that illegal miners have easy access to these stolen industrial explosives.
"We have seen several times that industrial explosives and detonators pilfered from industries and mines by Maoists are used in landmines against security forces," agreed Jharkhand Inspector General of Police Anurag Gupta.
The lack of coordination between different government agencies, coupled with massive shortage of staff in PESO, has meant that explosives are available to criminals and terrorists at will. In 2013-14, only 12.96% of 2,54,488 premises covered under various licenses and approvals granted by PESO were inspected.
While PESO is tasked with monitoring the manufacture, sale and use of explosives and is under the commerce ministry, the agencies of home ministry such as the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) look after law enforcement. Dna correspondents found that CIL, which has 125 magazines (explosives houses) in six states, is openly flouting rules on storage and transportation of explosives.
The government-owned CIL is the world's largest mining company which procures about 35% of the total explosives (worth more than Rs 1,500 crore) used in the country. "All magazine houses must be guarded by CISF. As per rules, there must be two armed guards accompanying the driver in the explosives van," said Waji-Ud-Din, deputy chief controller of explosives, PESO.
However, this dna correspondent visited a CIL magazine house in Nirsa, in Jharkhand's Dhanbad district and found more than 11,000 kg of gelatine and 40,000 detonators lying unguarded.
The correspondent walked inside the magazine house uninterrupted and was never questioned. The lone woman guard deployed there had got the job after her husband died in a mine accident. "I am the only one here. I guard this magazine alone," said Candana Devi, who has been working as a guard since May 2013.
It was the same in magazine houses in Belpahar in Odisha's Jharsuguda district. There were no guards with the trucks carrying tonnes of explosives. "In not a single case will you find a guard. Any criminal can stop the truck and take away all explosives. Even pilferage is so common," said KC Das, a former CIL employee from the area.
During the previous UPA government, the issue of pilferage from CIL's magazines was brought to the notice of former coal ministers such as Sriprakash Jaiswal, Pratik Prakashbapu Patil and Santosh Bagrodia in numerous safety committee meetings but to no avail, said an official.
On June 27, 2007, RP Singh and BK Rai, members of the Standing Committee on Safety in Coal Mines, pointed to the rampant pilferage of explosives from coal mines and their mis-utilisation by anti-social forces.
Then coal secretary HC Gupta said coal companies were responsible for checking the theft of explosives and suggested a review of the security system of storage and transport of explosives to stop pilferage. Seven years later, even in the 37th meeting held on April 17, 2013, nothing seemed to have changed. Another member, SQ Zama, raised the same issue and said CIL needed to evolve a fool-proof system to avoid pilferage of explosives. A detailed questionnaire sent to CIL Chairman Sutirtha Bhattacharya yielded no response.