Wednesday, May 3, 2000,
Chandigarh, India





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Bharatpur fire loss 376 cr
Report on loss to life, property in week’s time
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, May 2 — Ammunition worth Rs 376 crore and weighing about 12,111 metric tonnes had been destroyed in the devastating fire at the Bharatpur Ordnance Depot, the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, told the Lok Sabha today.

Making a suo motu statement in the House, Mr Fernandes said infrastructure of replacement cost of approximately Rs 13 crore had also been destroyed or damaged in the fire.

Noting that the depot was storing ammunition of the Southern Command reserve and that of Army Headquarters totalling about 30,000 tonnes, he said: “Ammunition in the remaining storage sheds is prima facie safe but this would need confirmation after detailed inspection.”

The depot was storing air defence missiles, anti-tank guided missiles, artillery shells of all types, tank and armoured personnel carrier (BMP) ammunition, small arms ammunition and mines and explosives, the minister said, adding ammunition stored in 20 open plinths and nine affected sheds had been lost.

He said two civilians were killed and seven injured in the fire that began on April 28. Three Army personnel had also suffered minor injuries.

On a report sought by the ministry from the Rajasthan Government on the damage to life and property, Mr Fernandes said the survey was on and the report would be sent in a week’s time.

Compensation would be paid for the damages caused within seven days after receiving the proposal from the state government, he said.

Stating that a court of inquiry under a Major General has been constituted, Mr Fernandes said adequate personnel to inspect the remaining ammunition sheds in the depot had been ordered to be moved.

On the existing security and safety guidelines, he said a broad policy letter regarding precautions to be taken to prevent fire accidents with the onset of summer was issued on April 28, 1997, and re-promulgated on April 17, this year.

Mr Fernandes said each ammunition depot had its own security and fire-fighting instructions which were updated periodically and that annual inspections were undertaken by technical as well as administrative heads.

The minister said from 1996-97 up to March 31, 2000, Rs 241.73 crore were allocated for building standard storage accommodation. Out of this, Rs 126.25 crore was sanctioned in 1999-2000, he said.

Giving details on how the fire started at the depot which was established during the period 1957-65, he said the depot was holding 17,220 tonnes of permanent and 12,700 tonnes of non-standard storage.

The fire started at the depot located 6 km from Bharatpur town, at about 3.30 pm from outside the perimeter wall, he said, adding high temperatures ranging between 45C and 47C and prevailing strong south western winds aided the rapid spread of the fire to open plinths.

Earlier, Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed, who was in the Chair, disallowed all Opposition-sponsored calling attention and adjournment motions as also demands for the suspension of question hour in view of the statement by Mr Fernandes. He said a special debate under Rule 193 would be held to discuss the issue, time and date for which would be decided by the Business Advisory Committee.

The government was not opposed to any kind of debate in the House, Mr Sayeed said.

RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said, “total negligence” on the part of the government led to the fire while Akhilesh Singh (Samajwadi) maintained that the issue was of great significance as it concerned India’s security.

Mr Fernandes told the House that the explosion and fire continued unabated throughout the night intervening April 28 and April 29 but the periodicity of blasts gradually reduced on April 29.

“Finally, the fire was brought under control by the evening of April 29. There has been no explosion since 2200 hours on April 29,” he said.

Mr Fernandes said the Chief of Staff, Headquarters of 1 Corps located at Mathura was asked to coordinate fire-fighting efforts and all available resources at Bharatpur and additional resources from Alwar, Agra and Mathura were placed at his disposal.
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Black Friday’ haunts villagers
From R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

BHARATPUR, May 2 — “Black Friday” continues to haunt the residents of Mandowni village which bore the burnt of the ammunition depot fire.

The village is situated in the vicinity of the depot. All houses in the villages have been destroyed.

With the day temperature rising, the residents of this Rajasthan village have to spend their day in the open.

“I had repaired my house spending Rs 25,000 recently. The missiles have destroyed it completely. I do not have any money to repair it again”, said Sukhi Ram, a villager.

Ram Krishan said he had stored grains in large quantity and everything had been destroyed. “I cannot provide even two square meals a day to my children now”.

The relief operation has begun with the state government distributing cheques for Rs 10,000 and voluntary organisations also taking part in providing food and clothes.

The villagers, who had fled the area have started returning in groups.

The whereabouts of about 50 persons mostly women and children were not known, villagers said.

But, even those who had returned was thinking twice whether they should continue to stay on or not.

“Though this is the first time such an incident has occurred, we feel that either the depot should be shifted from the place or many will move away from the village”, said Ram Gopal, a youth and his friends.

Children are still traumatised by the events and they keep on narrating it to each visitor who comes to the village or among themselves.

“If any big sound is heard, the small kids start crying and young ones run for cover,” said Roopwati, adding “if they grow up with such a fear, I doubt if they will stand up to the traditions of the region”.

While a large section of the villagers complained that adequate compensation had not been provided, some village elders said, “Since the weapons from the depot were supplied to the forces in Kargil, in May last year, we feel we have been provided a glimpse of the operations. Any destruction to our houses as a result, does not worry us”.
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