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'Clandestine trade' in banned explosives

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By G. Anand

Transactions are legitimised by 'manipulating records'

Thiruvananthapuram: There are reports of nitro-glycerine-based explosives being secretly traded in the State despite a ban on the possession and sale of such substances by the Chief Controller of Explosives in 2004. The ban was imposed mainly to prevent such lethal substances from falling into the hands of extremist organisations.

The covert trade is conducted by an illegal network that is involved in smuggling of explosives and detonators from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu into Kerala.

There are 16 explosive manufacturing units in Andhra Pradesh and four in Tamil Nadu. The illegitimately procured explosives are used largely for unauthorised granite mining operations. Some of the explosives also end up in the hands of criminal elements.

In January this year, non-electrical detonators were discovered at a bus terminus in Chennai.

The investigation led the Tamil Nadu police to an explosives dealer in Kollam.

This year, gelignite sticks were found in the cloakroom of a bus stand in Kozhikode. In September 2005, a gelignite explosion destroyed a fishing boat in Beypore.

In April last, 1,500 gelignite sticks (a banned explosive containing nitro-glycerine), 1,000 fuse caps and 100 metres of fuse wire were seized from a taxi at the Amaravila check-post. The police suspect that the explosives were part of old stock shown as destroyed in records, but sold on the sly to unauthorised buyers.

Licences

The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) has issued licence to 36 persons in Kerala for sale of explosives.

Nearly 1,200 persons have PESO authorisation to buy and use explosives.

Official sources said there were instances when the licences issued by the PESO had been misused to facilitate illicit trade in explosives.

Lawbreakers often legitimise their transactions by manipulating records to show that the volatile substances have been sold only to those with buyer's licence.

The State police are bound to verify the records of the licensees and send a monthly report to the PESO. However, the rule is observed more in the breach. The PESO is also the competent agency to conduct technical investigations into incidents involving explosives. However, the agency is rarely consulted by the State police, official sources said.

Safety standards

The PESO has to ensure that those who deal with explosives, petroleum and inflammable substances adhere to safety standards and relevant laws. The PESO's office in Kochi has four field officers whose duties include monitoring the safety standards of over 3,800 petrol pumps in Kerala. Last year, the agency had issued suspension notice to 17 explosive licence holders for various violations, including unsafe transportation of explosive materials in parcel vans.

Large-scale mining of granite has triggered a huge demand for explosives in Kerala.

Permits for mining

During the last financial year, the State Mining and Geology Department had issued 9,001 short-term permits for mining granite.

As many as 333 persons have long-term permits for granite quarrying in the State.

According to department estimates, there are at least 4,000 illegal granite quarries in the State.

Many permit-holders for quarrying find it easy to buy explosives from the black market given the delay and difficulty in getting clearance from various Government departments to secure an explosives licence.

The illicit trade in explosives can be prevented to a large extent if the Government ensures that those with short-term quarrying licences take explosives licence within a fixed time period. Joint inspections by the PESO, police and Mining and Geology officials would also curb the illicit explosive trade to a large extent.

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