IT WAS a slow Saturday morning for the officer in charge of the malkhana (warehouse) at Sadar Bazar police station in old Delhi — except for the bloodstained slipper of an accident victim and a knife with markings recovered from the scene of a crime deposited by investigating officers.
All that changed in the evening, however, when five officers brought in 79 boxes of firecrackers weighing 645 kg — from sparklers to “atom bombs” — that were recovered from a raid in Sadar Bazar, the hub of Delhi’s firecracker wholesale business.
With Diwali around the corner and the Supreme Court banning the sale of “non-green” firecrackers in the National Capital Region to combat severe air pollution levels, Delhi Police have a hard task at hand — seizing and destroying firecrackers that reached markets before the ban.
At the Sadar Bazar station, the boxes were gently placed inside a room designated by the Station House Officer, wrapped in white polythene packets and packed in cartons.
“The malkhana in-charge had written to the SHO to designate a safe space for the crackers. The crackers were kept inside a special room and we made sure that there was no source of fire, or any other case property. The officials even made sure that no additional pressure was applied when placing the crackers,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (North) Nupur Prasad told The Indian Express.
According to officers, the first step in disposal is a green signal from the local Metropolitan Magistrate’s court. The firecrackers are then sent to the Faridabad office of the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), where they are stored in explosive magazines, which are reinforced storage facilities located in remote areas, before being dumped inside furnaces and burned.
The firecrackers at the Sadar Bazar station are expected to reach PESO in the next two days, but officers said it would also take several months for the explosives to be disposed. “I have written several letters to them. It takes around five months sometimes to get the final report of destruction following which we submit the report to courts,” an officer said. According to the PESO annual report (2017-18), firecrackers weighing a total of 35 kg were destroyed last year.
Following the Supreme Court’s order, Delhi Police have recovered more than 3,800 kg of firecrackers from the north, east, west and south zones in 29 separate cases and have arrested 26 persons in connection with the illegal production and sale.
On Saturday, however, police did not expect to land such a huge haul. “When we weighed it on a weighing machine and found the crackers to weigh over 600 kg, we knew we had to act fast. Last year, the North district police recovered 367.5 kg of firecrackers in several raids,” an officer involved in the action said.
“The malkhana has space for government and cases properties recovered from the scene of crime. But 600 kg of explosive material can gut the entire police station and the adjoining areas, if anything goes wrong. We had to act fast, but really slow at the same time in handling the explosives. Even a slight push can set them off,” the officer said.
“The explosives were taken to the malkhana in a mini-van. Each officer took at least 10 minutes to carry each box after which additional officers were provided. It took over two hours to get the boxes inside the malkhana,” another officer said.
It took another three hours after the explosives arrived for the malkhana officials to document them with the investigating officer’s seizure report. But since the courts were closed the following day, the policemen had to keep the crackers inside. “We try to make sure the crackers leave the very next day from our police station… We do not want to take the chance of anyone entering and setting them off,” an officer said.
On Monday, the police procured a local court’s orders for disposal and contacted PESO for disposal. “The explosives will initially be taken to an explosive magazine in Faridabad. Later, it may also be taken to a disposal site in Gurgaon where there are five such sites,” the officer said.
Speaking to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, a PESO official said that “utmost care” will be taken when the explosives arrive, with inspectors even discarding their rings and wrist watches when opening the boxes.
“The explosives will be inspected by at least two men who will enter the magazine with their shoes dipped in water. The explosives will be opened with the help of wooden tools. We even go as far as making sure that there are no cellphones or items made of iron in the vicinity,” the official said.
“The PESO then designates an officer to dispose of the crackers after an examination. After the examination report, the orders for destruction are given following which the crackers are burnt in front of the case’s investigating officer,” he said.