Misuse of explosives rampant

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, AUG. 30. A large cache of explosives was seized and two persons were arrested in a surprise raid conducted by the police at an illegal cracker manufacturing unit near Poozhikunnu in the Nemom police station limits early this week.

The seized substances include 98 sacks of gun powder, a large number of fuses, iron filings, sulfur and aluminium powder. The police said the substances were used for making fire-works. Officials suspect that some of the illegal cracker making units in Poozhikunnu also made country-bombs on order for criminal elements in the city and in neighbouring Nagercoil district.

The arrested persons were identified as Vasudevan (54) and Kamalamma (55). The police are on the look out for Maniyan (54), Babu (26) and Sasi in connection with the incident.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police (Fort), Mr. M. Gopalakrishnan, who led the raid, said the accused were stocking explosive substances and manufacturing crackers without proper authorisation from the Police, Revenue or Fire Force Departments. The manufacturing was being done in a highly unsafe environment without even the basic fire-safety measures. He said the operations of the illegal cracker manufacturers had put the entire locality to jeopardy. The police said the crackers and fire-works were mainly meant for pyrotechnics in Tamil Nadu.

The large scale seizure of the explosives also highlights the easy availability of gun powder in the clandestine market and its rampant misuse for making crude explosive devices.

Experts at the Forensic Sciences Laboratory (FSL) here pointed out that a majority of the crude bombs used in communal riots and gang violence are of the "throw down" variety made by materials supplied from illegal cracker making units. The "throw down country bomb" is basically a chemical charge of potassium chlorate, aluminium and sulfur which is bound tightly with stone, nails and iron filings as shrapnel. When hurled against a hard surface, the bomb explodes on the impact sending the shrapnel flying in all directions.

The police said the worrying factor is that most of the materials for making crude explosive devices are easily available in the market. Dynamite, chemical charges, detonators and fuses sold by licensed agents for quarrying purposes are illegally diverted and end up in the hands of criminal gangs and religious fundamentalist organisations for fabricating crude bombs. In a telling instance in 1995, the rural police had seized hundreds of gelatin sticks and cordex fuses which were found illegally stocked in a house in Balaramapuram.

The discovery of "pipe bombs" (nitroglycerine charges in iron tubes) in the Kadalundi river in Malappuram district in the mid- '90s has also given credence to the police theory that anti- national forces are behind the spreading bomb culture in the State.

The police are also concerned about the rampant use of explosive devices for illegal mining and fishing. The use of `thotta' for sea-fishing has precipitated a tense situation in the coastal areas with traditional fishermen communities opposing the illegal practice tooth and nail. Officials say use of `thotta'-- basically a nitroglycerine charge in a waterproof sheath designed to explode underwater--is rampant along the backwaters and the rivers that flow through the district. A similar device was used rampantly during the Poonthura and Vizhinjam communal riots, officials pointed out.

The instances of police parties coming under country bomb attacks carried out by criminal gangs have also been on the increase. The police said that there was a felt need to strictly monitor and regulate the sale as well as transport of explosive substances in the State.

There is also a need to urgently upgrade the existing bomb detection and disposal techniques of the police. The bomb squad of the city police is in dire need of equipment such as flak jackets, portable X-ray vision, stethoscopes to monitor timing devices attached to bombs, M-97 detectors and hand-held detection equipment. The police dogs here need to be trained to help detect explosive materials like RDX.