The Army has conveyed its serious concerns to the defence ministry over the Ordnance Factory Board’s “failure” to punish officials responsible for last year’s massive blast at an ammunition depot in Maharashtra in which 19 army personnel perished, an official document says. Over 19,325 defective anti-tank mines had exploded primarily due to leakage of explosives from some of the mines stored at the Central Ammunition Depot in Pulgaon. In a letter to Defence Production Secretary Ashok Kumar Gupta, the Army headquarters has sought fixing of responsibility for the blaze at the depot on May 31, 2016. Separately, the Army has taken up the issue with Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, official sources said.
Two army officials, four defence security corps personnel and 13 defence fire safety staff were killed in the fire at the depot, the largest ammunition and weapons store in the country and said to be the second largest in Asia. In the letter, seen by PTI, the Army said a Court of Inquiry has attributed the cause of the accident to exudation of highly explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT) from some of the defective anti-tank non-detectable mines. No reaction was available from the OFB. The Army sought “fixing of responsibility” and “traceability of lapses” on the part of officials by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). The OFB operates 41 ordnance factories across the country and functions under the department of defence production of the ministry of defence. The mines were manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Chanda. “A detailed Court of Inquiry, which was conducted by the Army, attributed the cause of the defect (exudation of TNT) to lapses both by manufacturing (OFB) and quality assurance agencies.
“These agencies are under the control of department of defence production under the defence ministry and suitable action needs to be taken by them,” the Army said in the letter. It further said, “Fixing of accountability and traceability for the said accident is yet to be established by the OFB and the director general of quality assurance (DGQA) even one year after the accident.” Official sources said there was criminal negligence on the part of certain officials as cited by the probe and sought immediate action against them. The sources said the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) in Pune in 2012 had clearly called the quality of TNT in the anti-tank mines as safety hazard but the OFB stated it to be a world-wide phenomenon. The CoI had recommended disposal of defective ammunition in a time-bound manner to prevent recurrence of fire at the depot, the sources said.