India's Ammo Storage Problem

India ammo.jpgIn 1999 the Indian government had not sanctioned money for sheds in one of the depots, so the ammunition was lying in the open, grassy fields. Instead of paying someone to cut the grass, the practice was that the grass was sold at an auctioned price. As is common, the local farmer/contractors form a cartel to keep the bid amounts low and work out among themselves how to share the money saved.

The local audit officer had placed an objection on the depot for selling the grass in the previous auction at a low contract price. So when the tender bids for the next sale of grass were opened, the bids were even lower. So the Commander of the depot ordered re-tendering to avoid further objections by the local audit officer who can get very petty. In the meantime the grass had grown quite high and was dried up by the sun. It subsequently caught fire and hundreds of crores worth of ammunition was lost. The Commander felt that this was acceptable to auditor rather than the loss of a few thousand rupees by way of contract negotiations with local farmers.

In a similar incident in 2007 , two Army personnel died and the Police had to evacuate villagers within a 30km radius when an ammunition dump caught fire.

Think the government would have learnt their lesson then? Apparently not. The Defense Minister admitted in front of the parliament today that about 85,000 MT of ammunition was still lying in the open or in temporary shelters.

(Photo - From Bob Fagelson's collection, the ammo dump at Kanchrapara, circa 1946)

-- Manu Sood, editor, 8ak - Indian Defence News

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