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CAD Pulgaon Blast Army Ammunition Management Challenges Continue

Published Nov 21, 2018
Updated Jun 16, 2020

Multiple media reports indicated that six people were killed and 18 injured in a massive explosion at the Central Ammunition Depot (CAD) at Pulgaon in Maharashtra’s Wardha district on 20 November 2018.

The personnel and contractual labourers were destroying unused rounds of 23 mm Shilka anti-aircraft ammunition under the technical supervision of the CAD staff. “Today morning at 7.10 am while carrying out the demolition of old explosives by the staff of ordnance factory Khamaria, Jabalpur, there was an accident. The demolition was being carried out in the demolition land under the jurisdiction of central arms depot, Pulgaon. While carrying out the demolition, there was an accident (sic) ,” defence spokesman Captain BB Pande said.

 “The accident occurred while staff of the ordnance factory in Khamaria, Jabalpur, were disposing of unserviceable ammunition,” Group Captain Basantkumar Pande, Regional Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Defence, Nagpur region added.

“One employee of the ordnance factory and five casual labourers, who assist in digging the pit and placing sandbags over the explosives, suffered fatal injuries, while ten others who were injured have been shifted to the government hospital in Sawangi in Wardha district,” he said.

“The officials of ordnance factory Khamaria, Jabalpur and of ordnance factory Chandrapur rushed to the spot,” he added.

The Schilka ammunition was from Ordnance Factory Khamaria in Jabalpur which had been brought to CAD Pulgaon for disposal due to the expertise and availability needed to carry out the disposal.

In a similar accident in 2016, 16 persons were killed due to fire in the CAD Pulgaon

Importantly, reports of the CAD Pulgaon 2016 blaze revealed, disposal had been the main issue and not flawed storage. Lack of timely instructions for clearance of defective mines in the Depot led to the blaze which killed 16 brave hearts including two senior army officers and several firemen who valiantly fought the fire to prevent spreading to other sheds which had high value serviceable ammunition. These ND Mark-1 mines had been reported for TNT ‘exudation’, which means TNT was leaking out from these mines”

Comptroller and Auditor General of India Report on Ammunition Management in Army for year ended 2013 No. PA 19 of 2015 (Referred to hereafter as CAG Report 2015) had indicated that  urgent action should be taken on Segregated and Repairable Major (RMJ) ammunition. CAG Report 2015 states that, “DGQA should ensure that defect cases are investigated and cleared within the prescribed time frame of three months”.

Deficiencies in Quality Control and Quality Assurance Systems are leading to inadequate checks in quality by the Ordnance Factories, which include, “check of input material, inter-stage and final product”. Poor quality control at the initial stage only adds to the cycle of unserviceable ammunition, segregation and accidents where speedy disposal is not obtained as in the CAD Pulgaon case.

 Inadequacy in supply chain management and depot activities is another area that CAG Report 2015 highlights the inadequacies in movement of ammunition to include delays, non accounting, and transportation of explosives in non specified vans and so on.

In variably a large number of casual labour who have minimal qualifications are employed in various ammunition depots in the country, adding to the overall challenge of safety and avoiding accidents.