Ammonium nitrate (AN), the use of which has been confirmed in Pune’s recent bomb blasts, is not only legally imported in large quantities every year, but its use is also not tracked as it should be. Those in the know say as much as 3,500 tonnes of the imports are not accounted for.
About 350,000 tonnes of AN is imported yearly, for use in mining and other industries that require the use of explosives. However, experts say the rules on its packaging aren’t strict enough.
Jayant Umranikar, a retired director-general of special operations in the state police, says Chapter 4, Section 18 (comprising the latest rules) notified last month, says ‘AN shall preferably be imported in the bagged form and when imported in bulk, it shall be bagged or packed suitably by the stevedore, duly authorised in writing by the importer and having a licence.”
By only saying “preferably”, he avers, the importer is given the option of importing AN in an irresponsible manner. “It is imported as loose bulk and then bagged near the port, leaving several avenues open for pilferage and misuse by miscreants and terrorists,” he says. “The process of bagging after the loose AN is unloaded at ports causes losses which go unaccounted.”
A senior industry representative, who did not want to be identified, said AN is brought in as fertiliser grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN). It is brought as loose bulk cargo and bagged at godowns near the port, before being dispatched to consignees. Although the end-use of all these is in the manufacture of explosives, it is imported as FGAN. Most imports are through Visakhapatnam (Vizag), while some come via Haldia in West Bengal and Kandla/Mundra in Gujarat.
Vizag, he noted, had proximity to large parts that have Naxalite presence . “There are major security risks associated with imports of AN in the loose form. The estimated loss is an average of 0.5-1 per cent of the total cargo,” he said.
The issue is not new. For instance, AN was used in this city’s Zaveri Bazar blasts in July last year, killing many innocents; others lost their lives in Delhi. Hence, in July last year, the central government’s department of industrial policy and promotion issued a notification classifying AN under the Explosives Act, 1884, and said separate rules would be framed for it. In September, it posted draft rules on its website, calling for feedback; these were finally issued last month. Only, as noted, experts say lacunae remain.