Tuesday, May 2, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Negligence led to fire
Experts have reservations over inquiry
From Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, May 1 - Serious doubts have been expressed over the reason for the devastating fire at the Bharatpur ammunition depot on Friday which resulted in a loss of almost 40 per cent of the Southern Command’s arsenal, especially a large number of 155 mm gun shells.

Government sources here have pointed to the gross negligence of the authorities and the delay in taking adequate measures to control the fire as the reasons for the major loss to the country’s exchequer. There was apparently no adequate fire-fighting equipment within the compound and it took a long time for the first fire engine to reach the spot.

Conservative estimates have put the loss to about Rs 2,000 crore, but it is expected to go up after a complete check of the inventory at the depot is made.

Experts here have also pointed to the purpose, which the Staff Court of Inquiry headed by Major Gen C.B. Suku, would serve. With no civilian being part of the inquiry, serious doubts have also been expressed over whether the defaulters would be brought to the book or not. The actual facts might not emerge, the experts suspect.

There is also concern over the government declaring that there was no sabotage even before the Staff Court of Inquiry had begun investigations. How can the angle of sabotage be ruled out, when it is not known how the grass outside the depot compound caught fire, the experts ask?

According to sources as much as 40 per cent of the Southern Command’s arsenal had been destroyed a result of the fire. The Southern Command had also contributed the maximum during the Kargil war. But this loss would need a major replenishment for the country’s stock of ammunition.

Senior Army officers and even the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, have pointed to various reasons for fire, but have not spelt out why measures were not taken in advance to check such an incident.

The main reason given for the outbreak of fire is tall dried up grass outside the peripheral wall of the depot. Besides, old and outdated electrical wiring, actually dating back to the British days, has also been given as one of the reasons for the spread of the fire.

Raising serious objections, a senior Defence Ministry official pointed out that it was the duty of the authorities to not only get the grass cut, especially since summer was already here, but it was also the responsibility of the depot managers to get the wiring changed. Letting such sensitive depots to run on obsolete electrical wiring was nothing but negligence, the official said.

Reports here also say that no senior official posted at the depot was present when the fire broke out. This, the sources said, was evident from the fact that the jawans posted at the depot did not know what to do when the fire started.

The fire started outside the peripheral wall, crossed the inner compound wall and reached the open plinths in which the ammunition had been stored. Going by this, the sources said, it would take a long time, despite the strong winds which were blowing, for the fire to reach the plinths.

According to the sources, the guards had little knowledge of how to go about controlling the fire. And by the time senior officials reached there it had already reached the plinths.

The sources point out that little can be done after the fire has reached the plinths. Then one has to just wait for it to subside as even the spraying of water would not have much effect.

According to reports, the situation was quite similar at the Bharatpur ammunition depot and there was little effect of fire fighting. Although the authorities claimed that intense fire fighting measures were on inside the compound, reports point to the contrary.

The sources said the temperature prevailing within the compound was very high and it had gone much beyond the level at which the water evaporates and spraying of water had no effect.Back


The birds are safe

NEW DELHI, May 1 (IANS) — The yellow-legged pigeons, sarus cranes and hornbills that inhabit one of India’s best known bird sanctuaries — the Keoladeo National Park, in Bharatpur, Rajasthan — are safe and breeding as usual for this time of the year despite the inferno at the Indian Army’s ammunition depot, 11 km away.

So are the other resident woodland and wetland species of birds to be found at the sanctuary, spread over 2,873 acres, which is a popular tourist destination in the desert state.

“There has been no fallout from the fire except for the subtle change in air quality and temperature about which I do not have data,” sanctuary director Shruti Sharma told IANS. She said this was the dry season and the wetland and woodland birds like the yellow-legged pigeons, hornbills and sarus cranes were breeding as usual.

Ms Sharma said park officials checked the nests of the breeding on Saturday morning, less than 24 hours after the fire broke out on Friday afternoon and found the breeding process was unaffected. “There has been no change in the breeding pattern,” Ms Sharma observed.

But while the sanctuary may not have been directly affected by the blaze that broke out because of a forest fire fuelled by high velocity winds and high temperatures, its heat and smoke was felt by tourists and staffers there, who also heard the loud explosions emanating from the depot.

“We felt the sudden rise in temperature and noticed a cloud of smoke followed by explosions that sounded like thunder. It was only later in the evening that we realised that what we thought was a vagary of weather was the result of the fire at the Army depot,” the spokesman of the Bharatpur Forest Lodge, which is run by the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and is in the heart of the sanctuary, told IANS.

One fallout of the blaze was that a big group of tourists from Italy, who had checked in at the Bharatpur Forest Lodge that afternoon, checked out a few hours later, cutting short their stay.

“Ten rooms were occupied on that day, but six of them were suddenly vacated following the fire,” the spokesperson said.

The Keoladeo National Park, better known as the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, has 150 species of resident birds and is visited by 225 species of migratory birds, most of which have already left for cooler climes with the onset of summer.Back

Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh Tribune | In Spotlight |
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
119 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |