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Accidents in arms depots preventable, funds crunch delaying facilities
Shashwat Gupta Ray | Tuesday, 31 May 2016 AT 10:21 PM IST
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The tragedy that struck Pulgaon Army ammunition depot on Tuesday could have been prevented had the governments over the years allocated enough funds to build special explosion proof safe ammunition storage facilities in depots across the country, former Army chiefs told Gomantak Times on Tuesday.

A massive fire engulfed the central ammunition depot of Indian Army at Pulgaon in Wardha district in Maharashtra during the wee hours of Tuesday, which resulted in deaths of two officers and 18 jawans from the Defence Security Corps (DSC) guarding the facility. Ironically, this is not the first of its kind tragedy to have struck the Indian Army.

Earlier also, such accidents have occurred, causing not only loss of lives but also destruction of huge cache of ammunition. It is a double whammy situation considering the fact that Indian Army has been grappling with shortage of ammunition for long.
“Not enough money is being made available for modernised storage systems. For storage of ammunition, very strict conditions have to be met. Invariably when request for funds are put up, they are either not sanctioned or kept pending for a long time. The whole thing stems from the perception that if you delay something long enough, you can get it at a cheaper cost. This is what they (government) call economising,” former Chief of Army Staff, General (Retd) SF Rodrigues, said. He was however unable to fathom how this ‘economising’ phenomenon would help the cause of the Armed Forces.

“I don’t know what value is placed on human life by economising on critical aspects. It seems that humans are expendables in India, where one can carry on fiddling with procedures and not meeting our basic requirements,” he said.

According to him, despite repeated accidents in ammunition depots, no lessons seem to have been learnt by the government authorities over the years. “I don’t see any lessons being learnt from previous incidents. If any lessons have been drawn, then time has come to review how many recommendations made in the past have been implemented? If not, then why not? But, I don’t think anyone will do that as this will be treated as a din over situation,” Gen Rodrigues said.

He called for greater professionalism and accountability in such critical matters. “You can’t just continue to ponder over it for another five years. A committee should be set up to inquire into the status of the previous recommendations, find out the inadequacies and plug them,” he said.

Former Army chief Gen (Retd) Shankar Roychowdhury said that ammunition being very volatile in nature, they need to be stored in certain conditions that include bomb explosion proof bunkers, which in many cases are temperature controlled. Indian Army has been for long planning to have such specialised storage facilities.

“But this plan has not advanced much due to lack of enough funds and, consequently, these ammunitions are still stored in the open, on cement plinths, under tarpaulins. These are specalised constructions, with climate control facility. Unless you have such storage facilities, these explosions will continue to happen,” Gen Roychowdhury said.

Former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash said that problem regarding storage of ammunition is more or less the same in all the three services. “Ammunition is becoming more and more expensive. We are not just talking about bombs and shells. We are also dealing in missiles. Many of them have to be kept in air-conditioned facilities. Army is most affected because it has got huge amount of ammunition to store. I think, progressively, all the services are trying to ensure that the ammunition is kept in safe conditions,” Admiral Arun Prakash said.

However, he said that due to the quantum of ammunition involved with the Army, some of the depots may not have reached the levels required ideally. “Navy is a much smaller service and the ammunition requirement is also lesser. We have always been very careful about ammunition storage. Touchwood, we have not faced any such incident involving explosives,” he said.
According to him, such accidents are inevitable considering the huge stockpile of ammunition the Army is storing. “Human error or act of God can be a trigger for such accidents. We used to find this issue as a problem earlier. But now, the Naval Armament Service is taking care of the storage. Since our bases are located in highly populated areas, we have to be extra cautious,” he said.

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed within this blog is personal opinion of the author. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the blog do not reflect the views of Sakal and Sakal does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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