Karnataka

‘Illegal quarrying at the root of unscientific, unregulated use of explosives’

The site of Tuesday’s blast at Hirenagavalli village in Chickballapur district.   | Photo Credit: SUDHAKARA JAIN

The gelatin stick blast that left six dead near a quarry in Chickballapur district on Tuesday has underscored the rampant problem of illegal trade of explosives and their unscientific handling in the State.

Ever since six people were killed in a similar blast in Shivamogga district last month, agencies, mainly the Internal Security Division (ISD) of the State police, have launched a crackdown on illegal procurement and storage of explosives. The ISD has booked more than 20 cases across the State so far, including against the quarry in Chickballapur whose six employees were killed in the Tuesday’s explosion.

But this is unlikely to prevent another similar disaster, for the explosives’ market can be regulated by only putting a stop on illegal quarrying and not just by a crackdown on their illegal sale — a politically sensitive issue given the collusion of several politicians in the quarry business, opine police and Revenue officials who are part of the crackdown.

Presently, the law is stringent on the sale, storage, and use of explosives in quarries. A licensed explosive dealer should report all the sales to the district administration and should in person go and supervise the explosion at the quarry. “An illegal quarry or a firm carrying out quarrying beyond the licensed area cannot afford legal records of all the explosives they buy. This has created a black market for explosives in the State. Unregulated sale of explosives is the symptom, while illegal quarrying is the disease,” said a tahsildar who did not wish to be named.

Collusion?

Illegal quarrying and the alleged collusion of politicians and officials has created an ecosystem for illegal trade of explosives, activists point out. Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah asked how explosives could be illegally transported even across the State border from the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh without being detected at checkposts, hinting at a well-oiled corrupt mechanism in place.

“The Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh has a long history of use of explosives in political and factionist violence, which has created illegal explosive manufacturing units. This also finds its way into Karnataka. The source of explosives in Shivamogga was from this region. In Chickballapur too, the origin is likely to be the same region,” said another officer, calling for strict vigil along the inter-State border.

Explosives so procured illegally, are handled by labourers at the quarries who are not trained to handle them, often causing accidents. “There are strict protocols for both their storage and use in explosions. But those who use them at the quarries are completely ignorant. For instance, detonators and explosive material must not be stored together. Detonators are so sensitive that even a mobile phone signal could possibly trigger an explosion. In Chickballapur, they were put in the same gunny sack. Even a slight friction could have set off the explosion,” an explosive expert from the Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad said.

Mines and Geology Minister Murugesh R. Nirani has said that the department would set up a school of mines on the lines of a similar institute in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, to train the workforce in scientific mining, including the use of explosives.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 12:26:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/illegal-quarrying-at-the-root-of-unscientific-unregulated-use-of-explosives/article33926955.ece

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