Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has promised to hunt down the man accused of storing the explosives which detonated on Saturday in a highly populated residential area, killing more than 100 people in Jhabua district’s Petlawad township.
But the fact remains that for years, the state’s law-enforcing agencies including police have failed to stop the rampant smuggling of explosives which end up at the hands of illegal miners, farmers -- who use them for flattening hillsides and rocky lands for agricultural use -- and even terrorist groups.
The high number of casualties on Saturday has been attributed to explosion of a large number of gelatin sticks, a relatively stable explosive invented by Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel, stored at a warehouse close to a restaurant.
Police initially suspected the tragedy was the result of a gas cylinder explosion in a restaurant, which then detonated the explosives next door. However, officials now believe it originated in the warehouse next to the restaurant where prime accused Rajendra Kaswa stored explosive gelatin sticks and urea, a common fertilizer.
Kasawa had a license for the materials used for digging wells and in the construction and mining industries. But police said they were stored "in an unauthorised way in a residential area".
Many people HT spoke to said that gelatin sticks, locally known as ‘totey’ are the most commonly used explosives in the state due to their easy availability. Officials said contractors too acquire them illegally for blasting hilly terrain to make way for roads and bridges. Sources said it is even used for catching fish in rivers and water bodies.
“Explosives are easily available. And even a petty road-laying contractor uses it to blast big rocks or to widen roads,” said a senior administrative official who was once posted in the Jhabua region. He refused to be identified.
Sources said that people involved in the illegal trade of explosive not only supply them in Madhya Pradesh but also to end-users in neighbouring states including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
According to a farmer, he gets a one stick for Rs 100 to Rs 150.
Most of the gelatin sticks smuggled to the state originates at a government factory at Dholpur in neighbouring Rajasthan. While the consignments are meant for license users, police said that explosive-laden trucks disappear on way to the state, suspected to be sold to smuggling gangs by drivers.
But what has remained a mystery is the police’s failure to follow up the cases.
Police sources said that between January and August 2010, as many 163 trucks laden with explosives went missing in the state.
A police official BM Dwivedi, who had conducted an investigation into the missing trucks simply said, “We couldn’t make (any) recovery as the accused didn’t tell us to whom they sold the explosives.”
An intelligence officer said illegal miners usually get the explosives directly from manufacturing companies with the connivance of licensed shop owners or stealing them from mining companies.
The official said that the rampant business in illegal explosives has also made it easy for radical elements to acquire them.
In January last year, four operatives of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) were caught with a large cache of explosive including 900 gelatin sticks, 600 detonators and 12 bombs.
In February this year, the state anti-terrorist squad (ATS) had recovered detonators, gelatin sticks and gelatin powder from a house in Chhindwara district.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had also arrested a youth from Rewa district in connection with the serial blasts in Patna during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public meeting in 2013. The youth had allegedly supplied explosives to the accused.