Pulgaon/Nagpur: As the massive blaze at India’s largest ammunition dump at Pulgaon comes under control, the flames of irregularities and mismanagement of warfare refuse to die! The authorities did not learn the lessons from similar such fire accident in Pulgaon that occurred in May 1989. Now Speculations run rife that the war wastage reserves have been carelessly stored despite the team visited Europe in the period between these two accidents, to learn how Nato countries stores their war wastages.
It is learnt that most the ammunition were not disposed despite completion of their shelf lives which might have given air to the fire.
Is no sabotage suffice to heave relief?
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has ruled out sabotage although the Central Ammunition Depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra, is a “high value target” for potential enemies. Within the depot’s 7,100-odd acres, the Army Ordnance Corps maintains nearly all the kinds of bullets, bombs, warheads, artillery shells and mines the army uses. Some nine large field ammunition depots, set closer to the frontiers, have been known to contain two to three lakh tonnes of ordnance each.
By that calculation, Pulgaon, from where all the ordnance gets transported, is the “mother of ammunition depots”.
No storage value
Much of the ammunition in Pulgaon is held in the open, either under sheets of tarpaulin or in what are called “explosive store houses”: sheds with concrete flooring. Pulgaon boasts an estimated 250 to 300 sheds. The UN has prescribed norms on how each kind of ammunition should be stored. In India, the agencies responsible for the safekeeping of ammunition include the Directorate General Ordnance Services, including the Master General Ordnance (both at army headquarters), the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Centre for Environment and Explosive Safety, and a Storage, Transport and Explosive Committee in the defence ministry.
Parrikar said an army inquiry would ascertain the cause of the explosion and fire. But umpteen reports from within the government, the army itself and the defence establishment in general had in the past recommended that ammunition be stored in reinforced underground bunkers.
So is it rats???
“Such sheds have to be maintained and we do so,” an ordnance officer who has served in Pulgaon said. “But this is dangerous stuff. Even termites can eat up a section of a shelf or rats may scurry through, tipping over a box with a fuse that then detonates. We can’t be certain yet.”
No development post Independence
Reports recommending better management and storage of ordnance go as far back as the 1970s. The Pulgaon depot was established during the Second World War by a British army major. The British wanted to locate their largest ammunition dump as close as possible to the centre of India, from where the fronts they were fighting in would be as equidistant as possible. That continues to be the reason the army maintains the depot. Since Independence, the Pulgaon dump has been where all the ordnance is stored and then transported to the operational fronts. Army formations facing Pakistan and China maintain their own field ammunition depots, to which the ordnance is transported from Pulgaon.
No lessons learnt
This is not the first fire in Pulgaon. The last major fire at the depot broke out in May 1989. The inquiry that followed recommended that the Army Ordnance Corps, which maintains ammunition dumps, ensure that no grass grows inside the Pulgaon depot’s 30 km perimeter and for a kilometre outside it. Three years before the May 1989 fire, a blaze had raged at an ammo dump in Jabalpur for three days. Between the Jabalpur and Pulgaon fires, a military team had visited Europe to study how Nato countries stored their ordnance.
Expenses turned excuse
Ideally, the army wants all civilian construction barred around its ammunition dumps, as much for the safety of the people as to ensure that the depots remain beyond “grenade-throwing distance”. The team reported that most of these countries had specially designed “igloos” for their ammunition, mostly underground. The recommendation was ignored then, as it has been since, on the ground of the expenses involved. As recently as last year, the comptroller and auditor general had in a report to Parliament pointed to the strangeness of India’s ordnance management. While India’s military is running low on war wastage reserves, its upkeep of whatever it has is questionable.
(Courtesy : The Telegraph)