Sunday, May 02, 2010

Coal mine ammo for Maoists

OUR CORRESPONDENT

An ECL magazine house. Gelatine sticks are kept in the tin box in circle. Picture by Gour Sharma
Durgapur, May 2: Some of the explosives used to trigger blasts in coal mines may be going to Maoists from Eastern Coalfields’ magazine depots.

CID sleuths from Calcutta picked up a man from near a hotel in Raniganj town on Friday night and found on him 150 gelatine sticks and an equal number of detonators.

“Kamruddin Sheikh, 35, used to supply gelatine sticks and detonators to the Maoists. The explosives he had in a bag were about to be delivered to the guerrillas in Jungle Mahal,” a CID officer said today.

Kamruddin has been taken to Calcutta, 200km from Raniganj, for questioning.

“He told us he was part of a racket that smuggled explosives from ECL depots. He has also revealed a few names and we are looking for them,” the officer said.

Kamruddin was apparently waiting for a “receiver” when the police swooped down.

The Maoists stuff gelatine sticks into steel milk cans to make their infamous improvised explosive device (IED). The device is detonated from a distance with the help of electrical wires.

The police found seven such IEDs in Bhalukbasha forest in West Midnapore’s Goaltore yesterday.

Friday’s was the third instance of seizure of ECL explosives suspected to be meant for the rebels. “But this is the first time anyone has been arrested here with so many gelatine sticks and detonators,” a local police officer said.

According to ECL sources, there are about 100 explosives depots in the Durgapur-Raniganj-Asansol coal belt and each of them stocks 10,000 to 20,000 gelatine sticks and as many detonators.

An ECL official who did not want to be named said: “It is not possible for us to say how many of them have been stolen in the past few years.”

However, as recently as in March, eight gelatine sticks fitted with detonators were found in a plastic bag under a seat of a bus at the Durgapur bus terminus. The police had said that the explosives were being taken to the Maoists. In April, four gelatine sticks and eight detonators were found in the car of Samir Biswas, an Asansol doctor wanted for his alleged Maoist links.

The police said the magazine depots where ECL stored its explosives were never guarded adequately.

When The Telegraph visited a magazine house at a colliery in Kulti, about 5km from Asansol town, this evening, it found a small tin-shed room with all its sides open. The explosives are kept in an iron box inside the room. A lone guard was sitting nearby with a double-barrel gun.

Casual workers transport the gelatine sticks to collieries on cycle vans and, police sources said, pilferage often takes place at that time.

The police blamed ECL for the pilferage. Burdwan superintendent R. Rajsekharan said: “The magazine depots are ECL property and they have their own guards. We’ve asked ECL to secure their depots.”

The secretary (technical) to the ECL chairman-cum-managing director said the company was aware of the problem but lacked the resources to deal with it. “The magazine houses are scattered all over the coal belt and some of them are in remote areas. We are planning to reduce the number of depots in remote areas and store the explosives in two-three heavily guarded ones. Now, we don’t have the manpower to guard all the magazine houses,” said Niladri Roy.

Two days ago, Uttar Pradesh police claimed to have busted a ring that smuggled cartridges from camps of the CRPF and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and state police academies and sold them to Maoists.

Two CRPF jawans, five personnel of the state’s PAC and a retired CRPF sub-inspector have been held.

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