Fire at ammo depot raises questions

Fire at ammo depot raises questions

The occurrence of a major fire at the army’s central ammunition depot at Pulgaon in Maharashtra is a cause of serious concern and raises questions about the safety of the defence forces’ installations. The fire caused a loss of 18 lives and destruction of a large amount of ammunition. The Pulgaon depot is the country’s biggest armament depot which supplies stocks received from the ordnance factories to other depots in different regions. It stores ammunition ranging from bullets and mines to bombs and missiles. The safety standards at such an installation do not brook any compromise and dilution. The cause of fire is yet to be identified. Sabotage has been ruled out but the inquiry will examine all possibilities. It is maintained that no accident can happen in a defence installation if the Standard Operating Procedures (SoP) for safety are strictly followed.

The SoP actually takes care of not only accidents but all other causes of loss and damage.
A number of defence installations, depots, bases and assets have seen breaches of security and safety-related problems. The attack on the Pathankot air base exposed the weak spots in the security system. The navy has suffered loss of or damage to major assets like submarines, aircraft carriers and war ships. Ammunition depots have seen major fires – at least six of them since 2000 – which have caused loss of many lives and damage worth many thousands of crores of rupees. There is criticism that the Pulgaon depot, which was set up by the British during World War II, has not been fully modernised to store and handle all the sensitive ammunition that it receives, keeps and despatches. The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) had observed that the inventory management at ammunition depots is far from satisfactory and had even warned
that they faced the risk of fires.

It is said that the firefighting was done efficiency and the fire was contained to one area. There was no major damage in the nearby villages. While this is welcome, the fact remains that there was loss of lives and assets. The mishap should not have happened in the first place. There are various reasons like insufficient storage space, defects in ammunition, mishandling, electrical malfunctioning, the effects of weather, lack of required skills among personnel and inadequate firefighting measures which lead to such mishaps. Every one of these and possible other issues should be addressed so that the ammunition depots will no longer be vulnerable to mis-haps or acts of mischief or sabotage. The safety and availability of arms and ammunition are the major requirements
of national security and defence preparedness.

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