An explosion at a scrap dealer’s shop in Uttar Pradesh’s Agra, less than 250 kilometres from Delhi, claimed life of his two sons and left his wife critically injured in April 2013.
Sobaran Singh’s sons were trying to remove brass out of three mortar shells by hitting them with hammers, when they exploded and killed them on the spot. Singh later told police that he had bought the shells from rag pickers at throwaway rates, but did not know that the shells were explosives.
On Saturday morning, a similar unexploded mortar shell was found lying on a footpath close to a residential complex and a public park frequented by morning walkers. However, the locals were lucky as their alertness in calling the police has averted a re-run of the Agra explosion in their locality, which has become unsafe due to presence of drug addicts and unemployed youths.
“The mortar shell was discovered on time. Had it been found by any drug addict or miscreant, they would have attempted to remove the brass metal out for selling it to scrap dealers for money. Such attempts could have easily exploded the shell,” said a senior police officer.
Delhi police registered a case under Section 4 of The Explosive Substances Act after bomb disposal experts from the National Security Guard (NSG) confirmed that it was an unexploded mortar shell that, despite being corroded, was potent enough to cause explosion if handled carelessly. A special team has been formed to find out the source through which the corroded mortar shell reached the residential locality.
- August, 2016: An IED was found in DRDO Bhawan complex.
- July, 2015: Nine 51 mm mortar shells were found along the tracks between Dhola Majra and Shahbad railway stations on Delhi-Ambala route.
- June, 2011: Army destroyed around 3,500 artillery and mortar shells, rockets and grenades that were lying sandbagged at the Inland Container Depot at Tughlakabad in south Delhi for over six years.
Some senior police officers, who have earlier investigated cases related to recovery of similar explosives in Delhi, said that such materials are imported as heavy metal scrap from war-torn countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The scrap materials are shipped in big containers that reach ports in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
“The corroded explosives sail undetected through ports, customs and other depots as metal scrap and eventually reach scrap dealers. Small scrap dealers generally remain unaware of the danger lurking in such explosive materials. When they try to remove the brass metal attached to it by hitting it with hammers, it explodes,” said a senior officer from Special Cell, anti-terror squad of Delhi police.
The officer claimed that there were a couple of similar explosions at scrap shops in west Delhi in early 2000s, when he was posted as an ACP in that district.
Around 3,500 artillery and mortar shells, rocket and grenades that were lying sandbagged at the Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Tughlakabad in south Delhi for over six years were destroyed by the Army in 2011.
Another officer said that India import a large amount of scrap from across the world, unwittingly making its people vulnerable to dangerous accidents.
The danger the scrap explosive materials carried was primarily exposed in 2003-04, when 10 people died in an explosion at the Bhushan Steel Company in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. The police probe revealed that the scrap contained live rockets and missiles that exploded while being offloaded by workers.
Shaken by the deaths, the Union Home Ministry ordered the police across the country to comb big, medium and small iron and steel companies and manufacturing units that use imported iron scrap.
“On inspection of scrap of such companies and units, over 2,000 items, including 700 live rockets and missiles and 1,000 cartridges were found in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal in the next few days,” the officer recalled.