A white powder wrapped casually in a paper was found in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly last week shortly before the entire state legislature – including the Speaker, Chief Minister, cabinet ministers and all the MLAs – was to sit in the House for the ongoing budget session.
On the very next day of the detection, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called an emergency security review meeting, following which he informed the House about the recovery. He revealed that the powder weighed around 150 grams and was found under a seat in the Assembly during routine checks before the session began. He went on to announce that the powder was found to be a powerful plastic explosive, PETN or Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate, after a forensic test.
The lawmakers heard in stunned silence as Adityanath further declared that 500 grams of PETN was enough to blow up the entire Assembly building.
In further rhetorics, the Chief Minister called it a “terror plot” designed to attack the sovereignty of the country and demanded that the investigation into the “major security breach” be handed over to the National Investigation Agency or NIA. He called for immediate beefing up of security in the Assembly, at par with Parliament, and regretted the absence of a Quick Response Team in the House.
However, as the Chief Minister broke the news about the ‘planting’ of explosives in the Assembly, even declaring the explosive to be PETN and terming it to be a terror plot, there are several questions that need answers.
To begin with, why did the government not deem it fit to set up a preliminary inquiry ahead of the announcement in the Assembly?
It is also worth asking why would the government identify the explosive only on the basis of preliminary findings from the forensic laboratory, without waiting for a final confirmatory report. It also did not bother looking into the purpose that merely placing an explosive powder under a seat would serve unless it was assembled into a bomb and connected to a detonator and electric circuit for an explosion.
According to the sequence of events, as briefed by the police and ATS so far, members of the bomb detection and disposal squad, along with sniffer dogs and also the anti-mines squad, were carrying out routine checks of the Assembly when they detected a small quantity of “some powder”, not packed but wrapped, in ordinary paper. The squads pulled out the packet from under the cushion of one of the seats in the Assembly.
Is it possible for such squads and sniffer dogs to detect or spot a small paper packet under the cushion of a seat when the forensic laboratory has stated that the powder is odourless and beyond the reach of sniffer dogs as well as detection squads? The laboratory has even underlined that the squads in Lucknow were not trained to detect explosives like PETN.
ATS officials have, meanwhile, scanned the video footage grabbed in CCTVs installed inside the House, in corridors leading to the entrances to the House, and also on the Assembly building premises. These footages were scanned umpteen number of times and by different officials of the ATS, but no suspect has been zeroed into.
A controversy has also erupted over the authenticity of the preliminary findings of the Lucknow forensic laboratory that declared the powder to be PETN. The UP Police never sends samples of suspicious substance for tests to the Lucknow laboratory but to the one in Agra that is the only certified destination for these tests. In this case, an inspector is said to have sent the powder to the Lucknow laboratory in the morning of July 13 and the laboratory reverted with its preliminary findings by evening.
A senior IPS officer, who has been associated with investigation into cases of terror blasts, says the preliminary test can only confirm that a particular substance was either a high-intensity or low-intensity explosive or neither. A confirmatory report about the quality and the chemical name of an explosive requires multiple chemical tests that usually take at least six days, he said.
At times, even the laboratory tests are not the last word. A case in point is the major blast that occurred at Sheetla Ghat in Varanasi in December, 2010 claiming two lives. It was found to be the handiwork of Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives. The remains from the blast site were sent for tests to Agra laboratory that identified the explosives used in the blast to be RDX. In 2013, key IM men, Yasin Bhatkal, Asadullah Akhtar and Waqas, were arrested who, however, revealed that they had used highly-concentrated hydrogen peroxide in a timer device.
If the government is to be believed, a terror module succeeded in breaching the security in the largest Assembly in the country, and even reached the sanctum of the House where only legislators and marshals have access. But it has been five days since that and no heads have rolled. Neither the CM nor any other senior minister, the home department or the DGP have even spoken once about taking the erring officials, if any, to task.