Finding the source from where the ammonium nitrate is procured is crucial and therefore records need to be maintained right from the first step of procurement to prevent terrorists from using it as an explosive, says Vicky Nanjappa
In the last few years, ammonium nitrate has emerged as the favourite explosive for terrorists as well as Maoists in India. In spite of talk about regulating the sale of ammonium nitrate in India, little has been done to control the transportation of the substance.
Ammonium nitrate has been used in the recent attacks carried out by most terror groups, including by the Indian Mujahideen. Investigations have revealed that terrorists and Maoists have been stealing ammonium nitrate and stocking it up to use during a terror strike.
Till now, the police have taken incidents in which explosives have gone missing very lightly. This is precisely why terror groups don't find it too difficult to siphon off the explosive.
Nearly a year back, 163 trucks laden with explosives had gone missing in Madhya Pradesh. But the ensuing investigation concluded that rivalry between two groups had led to the incident.
Investigations into the terror attacks at Bengaluru, New Delhi and Ahmedabad have revealed that the ammonium nitrate used in these strikes had been procured from Rajasthan, where it is available in the open market.
The fact that substantial quantities of ammonium nitrate are being sold in the black market indicates that the substance, allocated to farmers by the government, is being stolen by the mafia.
Though the authorities concerned and police claim that they have been keeping a close watch on the purchase and sale of large quantities of ammonium nitrate, some incidents clearly demonstrate that is not the case.
A few days ago, 27,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate landed from Russia at the Visakhapatanam port in Andhra Pradesh. The consignment was legitimate and had all the papers required for the transportation of ammonium nitrate. Once these papers were checked, the load was stacked into lorries and sent off to the respective dealers. But the monitoring of such a sensitive consignment ends at the port.
On most occasions, the truck driver may be involved in the racket or the ammonium nitrate may be stolen from one of the many stops that the truck makes on the way to its destination.
Terror groups can wreak havoc with only a bag full of the explosives; they can trigger off at least ten explosions with that amount.
According to authorities, there is an urgent need to monitor the Visakhapatanam port, which is the largest landing point for ammonium nitrate. At least 1.50 lakh tonnes of ammonium nitrate lands at this port every year. The potentially dangerous substance had been illegally transported from the port as well as stored illegally.
Lack of adequate monitoring has made the job tough for investigators. Finding the source from where the ammonium nitrate is procured is crucial and therefore records need to be maintained right from the first step of procurement.
Once the consignment lands at the port, a proper record of the quantity that has been offloaded for each dealer should be available so that if needed, the authorities can compare the amount of ammonium nitrate sought by the dealer and how much reached him finally. In case of a discrepancy, it would be easy to pin down exactly at which point the ammonium nitrate had gone missing.
Since most dealers complain that their consignment has been stolen, the police need to provide adequate security to the trucks that are transporting the ammonium nitrate.
If these trucks are tracked from the port to the actual destination, it would not be so easy to cart away with a substantial amount of ammonium nitrate.
Left-wing ultras have also started using ammonium nitrate in their operations, much to the concern of the authorities.
Recently, 16 tonnes of ammonium nitrate went missing at Chattisgarh while 50 kg of the substance was stolen from Silvasa. Within days of these thefts, major strikes by terrorists and Maoists took place, suggesting an obvious link between the two incidents.
But the police do not know how much ammonium nitrate was sought by the dealers in these cases, and this is hampering their investigation.
Some dealers have found this a lucrative business. While they have to sell ammonium nitrate to farmers at a subsidised rate, they can sell it to terror groups, Naxals or even illegal miners and make a huge profit.
"It is a huge racket and today's situation does not provide the required amount of security in case of ammonium nitrate. Unless there is proper regulation right from the source point to the final destination, it would be difficult to control this problem. Not only the police but even the port authorities should play a major role in curbing this racket," said a senior official.