Concern for the safety of residents of Bathinda is being voiced frequently with regard to the three oil depots and unauthorized constructions coming up in the vicinity of the Bathinda Ammunition Dump, that could in the event of an explosion cause unthinkable devastation to the town and its surroundings.
The recent blast at Brazzaville (Congo) Arms Depot, which killed around two hundred people when raises several questions regarding the safety of Bathinda town and its surrounding areas.
The three oil depots (Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum) at Village Phoos Mandi, which is at the back side of ammunition depot pose a big threat to the town.
The issue of shifting either the ammunition dump or the oil depots from their respective places was raised on several occasions, but no steps have been taken in this regard so far since it would prove too expensive.
The army authorities time and again raised the sensitive issue as they believe that oil depots were set up in contravention of the ministry of defense notification under which 1,000 yards were to be kept as clearance zone.
As per Army's Works of Defence Act, 1903, any civil activity or construction is banned around the boundary of any ammunition depot. Later, in Gazette of India a notification was issued on February 2nd, 2005, strictly banning construction within 1200 yards from the crest of the outer parapet.
Bathinda cantonment is the largest in Asia. Ammunition depot here is amongst the largest depots in India. In the 70's Ammunition depot was brought here due to its scarce population and the vast expanses of land. However it has developed over time and become more populated.
A senior civil official pleading anonymity pointed out that army authorities should have prevented the setting up of oil dumps at its present location. The procedure regarding setting up of oil dumps had been initiated in 1989.
"In 1990, the DC issued no objection certificate to IOC, followed by HBP and HP depots. It was after that the Kandla-Bathinda pipeline came into existence and now Guru Gobind Singh Oil refinery is also coming up at Raman Mandi about 40 kilometres from here. It is up to the centre government to take a decision on a subject," he added.
Moreover, illegal constructions have come up in the restricted area around the depot depot including residential colonies and a public school (both touching the boundary wall of depot). The school with a three storey building at a distance of 50 meters from ammunition depot was constructed few years ago.
As per documents with HT, these illegal constructions forced the depot authorities to file a complaint with Bathinda deputy commissioner for immediate action against these encroachments. The depot authorities also accused civil administration to play a hand in these unauthorized constructions. However, repeated complaints by army authorities have failed to yield the desired result.
In reply to an RTI query, Bathinda Development Authority (BDA) informed that PUDA or BDA has not given a no objection certificate (NOC) to land owners for any construction in the restricted area near the depot.
In spite of this the deputy commissioner has not passed any orders to demolish the buildings near the depot. When contacted, municipal corporation, commissioner, Bhupinder Singh Rai said, "Commandant of the ammunition depot had sent a demi official (DO) letter to deputy commissioner and we have already sent the reply. Further proceedings will take place following a reply from army authorities". Rai added that a week ago, the administration had sent a notice to the illegal constructions taking place.
A visit to the area by HT revealed that the unauthorized construction is still unabated in the area. On the other hand, Bathinda senior superintendent of police, Dr Sukhchain Singh Gill maintained, "It's the responsibility of army or administration or corporation to take necessary action. If needed we will provide adequate security."
A defence official on condition of anonymity pleaded that army authorities and district administration should figure out a workable solution over the sensitive issue, otherwise the city and its surrounding villages will continue to sit on a ticking bomb.
Violations at other places too :
Works of Defense Act, 1903 was also violated at Jalandhar and Ferozepur as new buildings were constructed within the restricted area but deputy commissioners of Jalandhar and Ferozepur passed notifications and banned the constructions.
Two days back, deputy commissioners of Kangra, Pathankot and Gurdaspur in a meeting with the army authorities have also passed orders for removal of illegal constructions around ammunition depot.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court had ordered for the demolition of buildings in Baddowal ammunition depot near Ludhiana a few years ago.
Blasts at ammunition depots in the past
28 April, 2000 Bharatpur ammunition depot destroyed.
29 April, 2001 Pathankot ammunition depot caught fire.
24 May, 2001 Sri Ganganagar ammunition depot destroyed.
27 July, 2002 Dappar ammunition depot destroyed.
28 July, 2002 Jodhpur ammunition depot caught fire.
22 March, 2005 CAD, Pulgaon ammunition depot destroyed.
11 august, 2007, 21 FOD Kundru ammunition depot destroyed.
26 March, 2010 Panagarh ammunition depot destroyed.