Just two days after the horrific explosion that killed over a hundred and thirty people in Beirut, serious concerns have been raised now about tons of chemical explosives that are stored at a private container near Chennai, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Nearly 700 tons of ammonium nitrate is stored in a private container stationed 20 kilometers north of the Chennai port. Sources have told that the chemicals are in safe custody and that they are currently being prepared for disposal using the e-auction process. However, the chemical has been stocked up in this location for over 5 years as it was ceased in 2015 by the customs department after the importer failed to produce a valid license for this. Officials also said this chemical was meant to reach Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, known for its large scale fireworks industry. The explosion that took place in Beirut has already killed 137 people and injured over 5000. The reason that is being cited is ammonium nitrate, the same chemical that is stored in large dangerous quantities in northern Chennai as well. Just as in Beirut, the chemical is stored in the port Chennai just 20 kilometers away. There is some sort of tension and panic there about whether a similar incident could happen. We need to remember that in Beirut, 2500 metric tons of ammonium nitrate caused, the huge mushroom cloud blast blew the city. We still do not know what caused the initial explosion that led to the blast because the ammonium nitrate was kept in an asylum, is causing fear now. The blast happened in Beirut but there are tremors in Chennai. Any mishap could be devastating for the state capital. Experts also suggest that an explosion of 700 tons of ammonium nitrate could be felt around the 5-mile radius.
Ramadas PMK chief and ally of the ruling party in Tamil Nadu along with activists and another environmental expert in the state have now requested safe disposal of the explosive chemicals and have also appealed to the Chief Minister to address the concern immediately. He has advised the government to take necessary action concerning the events that happened in Beirut. This has to be informed to the government so that the government could place this information to the public so that the public is should be worried but the officials have assured us not to worry about it.
In India, we should remember that time and again we have faced similar accidents like a disaster in Andhra Pradesh as well. And one of the important histories like Bhopal gas tragedy has occurred, so we can’t take this for granted. When we look into this issue, such an amount of ammonium nitrate is a real threat and immediate actions are to be taken. At an emergency like this, the officials have to form a committee and get to work on removing it safely. The standard followed in India are many times not equivalent to other countries but since it’s an alarming situation, there is a need for all protocol to be followed and measures ate to be taken immediately. Right now we have begun to understand that throughout India there has been a sudden move which the CBIC has initiated and asked all the authorities over India and not just in Tamil Nadu because this incident has raised eyebrows among people across the country. The customs officials are instructed strictly to inspect all the godowns, warehouses, and customs facilities were such big hazardous chemicals or explosives are kept after a seizure or even during transit. Right now, at the Chennai port, 5 years ago this consignment was ceased and these were 37 large containers that are hard to hide and are 20 feet height. 37 containers, each carrying tons of ammonium nitrate in them are said to be kept in a secured facility and officials have assured us that these are kept in a designated facility container station and is 2 kilometers away from nearest inhabitation but we can certainly expect in one month time this will be entirely disposed of and sold to the bidder.
Authorities say that due to coronavirus they wouldn’t able to conduct an auction and have said there is nothing to worry; they have been taking inspection methods at the warehouse. But the process to auction off this 700-ton ammonium nitrate is underweight. We have learned from the highly placed sources that in about 1 month, these chemicals are likely to be disposed of. Because the e-auction is to proceed smoothly and large quantity or perhaps all of these chemicals would likely be disposed of safely. These are to be sold to a particular bidder after the auction and until that it has been kept in a secure facility where there is no human inhabitation in and around the area for 2 kilometers.
It is very likely in about 1 month; these chemicals would be handed over safely or rather sold to the highest bidder via the e-auction. For a five year, there has been high court litigation also but the high court has ruled the custom officials to be right in ceasing this chemical because the company which imported them in 2015 did not have the requisite explosive licenses to import the harmful chemical. This is a concern even if the customs officials suggest there is nothing to concern about. Valid inspectors have gone there and inspected the site, the protocol was instructed to be followed but this seems to be a very cause of concern. Tamil Nadu government has to remember it’s always better to be safe than sorry.