Wednesday, October 13, 2004

India: Analysis- Literally "Shell Shocking" discoveries all over

[The killing of 10 people in a steel factory in western Uttar Pradesh near here on Sep 30, when a projectile hidden in scrap reportedly imported from Iran went off while being unloaded from a truck, has led to an explosion - of a different kind. In the 11 days since then, similar finds have been made not only in several western Uttar Pradesh towns bordering this city but in the capital itself as well as in Mumbai, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kotdwar (Uttaranchal), West Bengal and the Chhattisgarh capital of Raipur. An alarm has been raised in Gujarat's ports. 'Is India really a dumping ground for dangerous scrap iron that nobody else wants'. That's the question being asked all over, as large swathes of India seem to become as volatile as a minefield with thousands of shells of cartridges and small rockets 'many of them live' being unearthed in at least nine states.]

Explosive! Shell-shocking!


' Is India really a dumping ground for dangerous scrap iron that nobody else wants'

That's the question being asked all over, as large swathes of India seem to become as volatile as a minefield with thousands of shells of cartridges and small rockets 'many of them live' being unearthed in at least nine states.

The killing of 10 people in a steel factory in western Uttar Pradesh near here on Sep 30, when a projectile hidden in scrap reportedly imported from Iran went off while being unloaded from a truck, has led to an explosion - of a different kind.

In the 11 days since then, similar finds have been made not only in several western Uttar Pradesh towns bordering this city but in the capital itself as well as in Mumbai, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kotdwar (Uttaranchal), West Bengal and the Chhattisgarh capital of Raipur. An alarm has been raised in Gujarat's ports.

While conspiracy theorists go to town about the terrorist angle, the bewildering frequency with which live mortars and artillery shells are being found has authorities worried. Since the Sep 30 killings when a rocket exploded in the Bhushan Steel and Strips factory in Sahibabad on the outskirts of Delhi, there has been no loss of life. But it has been a touch and go affair every day. Yesterday, half a dozen artillery shells imported into India as scrap were found dumped in the congested west Delhi neighbourhood of Najafgarh. Just two days earlier, 200 explosives were found in a scrap consignment in the Tughlaqabad container depot. Before that on Oct 7, 33 shells were found near a drain in Mayapuri in west Delhi.

And in the entire western Uttar Pradesh belt of Bulandshahr, Baghpat and Ghaziabad, explosives ranging from mortars to rockets and rocket parts are being found almost daily. On Saturday, police found more than 100 shells in a drain in Bulandshahr. In Mumbai, more than 1,200 live and dead cartridges and shells were found in a steel yard that importers out of fear might have dumped police felt.

Though defence experts said most of the shells were rusted and useless militarily, some were live. A careless fire at the scrap yard could easily cause them to explode, it was felt. Explosives experts have now defused most of the shells, but the panic remains.

Initial reports say the consignment may have been brought in from some East European country. The load is deadly including four rocket propellers, two big rockets, 25 small rockets, 22 hand grenades and 52 bullets. In addition, there were about 150 shells and around 1,000 cartridges. In Chhattisgarh capital Raipur, 17 rockets were found in a scrap container.

Giving details, senior police official Ashok Juneja said: "The 17 rockets included five high-explosives live rockets that were recovered since Sunday midnight in a search of imported scrap from Singapore and Cameroon."

He feared that more explosives could be found. Steel factories and sponge iron units in Chhattisgarh import over 20,000 tonnes of scrap mainly from the Gulf, Africa and Southeast Asia.

In Punjab's Patiala district, live shells and cartridges were found in a dry streambed on Sunday. Police suspect that some factory owner had hurriedly abandoned the explosive material fearing retribution.

IANS 12/10/2004