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Pulgaon ammunition depot fire: Defective mines could have caused the blast

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Documents submitted to Army’s Court of Inquiry paint a picture of design flaws, leaking explosives and official neglect

Documents submitted to the Court of Inquiry into the deadly blast at the Central Ammunition Depot (CAD) in Pulgaon suggest that defective anti-tank mines, packed with poor quality explosives, could have been the cause of the disaster.

The documents, accessed by The Hindu, reveal that manufacturing defects in the anti-tank 1A ND mines made by the Ordnance Factory Chanda, were repeatedly brought to the notice of various stakeholders, including the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and the Ministry of Defence.

Army sources said no evidence has emerged yet that sabotage or a short circuit caused the fire, which claimed the lives of 19 military and civilian personnel on May 31.

A major flaw in the mines, designed by the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) in 2004, is said to have been the quality of TNT (trinitrotoluene) used in them. TNT has the property of exudation (leaking), the amount of exudation directly linked with the purity of TNT.

Ironically, this issue was flagged way back in February 2010, after which the anti-tank 1A ND mines were segregated; a ban was also imposed on their use. However, the mines were not destroyed or replaced but remained in the depot despite several internal communications among the various stakeholders.

Over 23,000 such mines were stacked in the CAD in Pulgaon; across the Army ammunition depots, there are over 1 lakh allegedly defective mines waiting to be repaired or destroyed.

The documents reveal different organisations within the defence establishment speaking in different voices. For instance, the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL), the final authority to approve designs for explosives, has claimed it was not consulted in the case of the ARDE-designed anti-tank mines.

HERML authorities, who visited Pulgaon after the blast, have noted that the TNT used in the mines had a melting point of 79.6 degrees centigrade, which is not even military grade. Ideally, special grade TNT, with a melting point of 80.6 degrees centigrade, should have been used in the mines. As for the ARDE, it had, during a meeting in April 2015, ruled out any design flaw in the mines and said the defect was “due to change in process of the manufacture by the ordnance factory.”

However, the Controllerate of Quality Assurance (CQA), under the Ministry of Defence, had drawn attention to the danger of exudation more than once.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 11:23:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Pulgaon-ammunition-depot-fire-Defective-mines-could-have-caused-the-blast/article14406594.ece

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