Did haphazardly stored vast quantities of banned and unstable Potassium Chlorate and Potassium Perchlorate cause the massive accident in Kerala’s Kollam District’s Puttingal Temple annual festival that has claimed over 110 innocent lives so far?
Are VVIP visits, expression of condolences, attempts to sweep the whole issue under the carpet by saying “priority is to provide relief” without exposing the critical facts and the wanton flouting of the rules?
Is the entire media and the political dispensation in Kerala and at the centre attempting to provide an easy escape route to the annual Rs.10,000 crore turnover worth firecracker industry – whose profits are reaped mainly by Chinese exporters sending banned explosives into India?
Well here – the national shamelessness lies exposed first! The writing on the wall is that the explosions in Kollam that devoured 110 lives – in all likelihood came from China.
The verdict: All rules violated blatantly. The authorities who allowed the storage of explosives are guilty of culpable homicide!
All the officials – those controlling the temple, the bureaucrats who winked at the import, the policemen and the politicians who allowed the storage of the hazardous explosives, permitted the competitive firecracker display are all liable to be prosecuted under Indian Penal Code 304a.
The law that is immediately applicable to arrest all the connected wrongdoers:
Section 304A in The Indian Penal Code
304A. Causing death by negligence
Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
A catastrophic explosion and fire occurred at the Puttingal Temple in Paravur, Kollam, on 10 April 2016 around 3:30 a.m. India time.
It left at least 110 persons dead and more than 350 injured.
The temple did not have permission from Kerala government authorities to conduct a “competitive fireworks display.”
Local reports blamed the explosion and fire on firecrackers that were being inappropriately stored in a celebration at Puttingal Temple located some 150 km north of Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala, the southernmost state of India. A burning cracker piece fell on the explosive heap, goes the tale.
About 15,000 pilgrims were visiting the temple to mark local Hindu celebrations.
Temple authorities violated the cardinal rules as Explosives Rules 2008:
Restriction on handling explosives
No person shall handle or cause to be handled any explosive between the hours of sunset and sunrise
“Adirvettu” or “Kadina” [terms common to the fireworks in Kerala] means sound producing device made of iron tube having strong base with a hole at the side close to the bottom, which is filled with gunpowder and fired by means of trail of dry loose gunpowder and approved by the Chief Controller of Explosives
“Authorised explosive” means an explosive included in the list of authorised explosives referred to in rule 6 and published by the Central Government from time to time in the Official Gazette
It is the second firework disaster in India after the Sivakasi factory explosion in September 2012 that claimed 40 lives.
In Kerala, firecrackers are burst normally avowedly to propitiate divinity. The main such jamboree is the annual Thrissur Pooram festival – which is a major tourist attraction in Kerala – scheduled to be held 7 days later on April 17. Will this mishap affect the bigger show?
Did the mishap occur due to untrained persons having assembled the firecrackers?
Was it due to improper storage?
Were explosive contraband chemicals imported clandestinely?
The indication came from the tweets of Union Minister of State for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman issued earlier Sunday, April 10 2016.
The summary of her tweets:
Chief Controller of Explosives, Petroleum & Explosives Safety Organisations (PESO), from the cities of Nagpur, Chennai and Kochi have been rushed to Kollam City to conduct investigations.
There are 2 major reasons, but so far, latent, for the tweets. They are two chemicals – potassium chlorate and potassium perchlorate – unstable and dangerous stuff that cause massive explosions.
Will Nirmala Sitharaman, who once worked for the BBC World Service ask these difficult questions?
Will the probes ordered ever succeed in finding out the truth?
Will the greedy importers out to make a fast buck ever pay for their sins?
Is the nation’s collective that ought to be concerned about security from the terrorism perspective even aware of this great danger?
At this point in time, there are no answers. There is this grim possibility. The whole thing willl be swept under yet another unseen carpet and conveniently forgotten.
Excerpts from the relevant press statement issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in September 2014:
It has been brought to the notice of the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion that fireworks of foreign origin were illegally brought into India under false declarations.
Various Fireworks Associations have informed that these smuggled items include the chemical ‘Potassium Chlorate’ which is a dangerous and hazardous chemical and can ignite or explode spontaneously.
Fireworks in India have been declared as restricted item under ITC (HS) in respect of import by Director General of Foreign Trade.
All explosive chemicals’ imports were banned vide Notification GSR No.64 (E) dated 27.1.1992. Since then, no licence for import of fireworks has been granted. Measures had been rendered more stringent through amendments to the Explosives Rules, 2008 by Petroleum & Explosives Safety Organisation, a subordinate office of Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
Possession and sale of fireworks of foreign origin in India is illegal and punishable under the Law. Information about possession and/or sale of such fireworks may be reported to the nearest Police Station for suitable action.
The Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA) had also informed that illegal fireworks of foreign origin have penetrated into our country in large quantities earlier.
“The watchwords are two chemicals used in the manufacture of firecrackers – Potassium Chlorate and Potassium Perchlorate.
Potassium chlorate is an odourless white crystal or powder that, when combined with a fuel, forms an explosive mixture.These are highly unstable, inflammable and explosive,” top government sources said.
“Corner-cutting traders import these chemicals under false pretences to increase fizz in their crackers – manufactured mostly in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu – located some 350 km north of Kollam just across the Western Ghats. The ports where security is lax is Tuticorin and Kochi,” top Government sources pointed out.
“Corrupt customs officials allow entry of such chemicals and are rarely questioned. This leads to the mishaps that claim innocent lives,” the source added.
The terrorist threat
Potassium chlorate and perchlorate are ‘popular’ amongst Afghan terrorists. Insurgents planted 3,572 improvised explosive devices, a 13% decrease compared with the same period last year, between March and May 2015, according Pentagon reports.
“Potassium chlorate is used legally in Pakistan in the manufacturing of matches and textiles. There are 390 textile mills and 50 factories that make matches there,” Al Sweetser, the chief researcher at the Joint IED Defeat Organisation [JIEDDO], the Pentagon’s lead agency for combating makeshift bombs had been quoted as saying in USA Today.
For the first time in the 12-year war, potassium chlorate was the most common ingredient, fuelling 60% of the IEDs made and burst by the Haqqani Network, which is responsible for attacks against U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan and for staging suicide raids in Kabul, the Pentagon report said.
Stringent bans were promulgated on September 29 2014, vide the orders of India’s central Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
Significantly, officials from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Customs Department had seized several consignments of illegal imports from China weighing 285 metric tonnes in 2015 mainly in the ports in and around Mumbai. The contraband came in some 53 containers, official sources said.
The volume was three times what had been imported for an entire year between fiscal year ending March 31 2015, sources revealed.
These chemicals had been imported under the guise of Chinese firecrackers, the source added.
According to sources in Tamil Nadu Fireworks & Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA), the annual turnover in firecracker trade is roughly worth Rs.10,000 crores. Some 65% is due to cheap imports from China assembled and sold nationwide.
In September 2012, an explosion in Sivakasi occurred while workers were mixing certain chemicals to produce fireworks. It resulted in 40 persons losing their lives. Reports suggested that high ambient temperature in the factory (39°C) may have been a factor. The initial explosion and a subsequent series of explosions could be heard more than two kilometres away. The concrete structures were reduced to smithereens.
The 2012 Sivakasi factory explosion was an explosion at the Om Sakthi Fireworks Industries fireworks factory in Sivakasi, India on 5 September 2012. 40 people were killed and more than 70 injured. The tragedy occurred in a fireworks factory which did not have a valid licence.
The industries of Sivakasi had begun copying China with collaborations over a decade ago substituting potassium nitrate [normal stuff traditionally used in India] with potassium chlorate. The safety limit of potassium nitrate – roughly 12%. When potassium chlorate is added, the limit is very, very less. Minor mistakes have caused huge mishaps in Sivakasi.
There have been several other accidents in Sivakasi, the firecracker capital of India. A check-list of incidents in places manufacturing and/or storing firecrackers in Tamil Nadu since 2005 – till 2012 September:
April 19, 2005: Two persons were killed in an explosion at a cracker manufacturing unit near Madurai.
July 2, 2005: 12 persons were killed and 22 injured in a fire accident at Anuppankulam in Sivakasi.
July 25, 2005: Six employees of a private fireworks unit were injured in an accidental fire at a cracker unit at Anuppankulam near Sivakasi.
April 20, 2006: Four people including a woman were killed in a blast in a cracker unit in Sivakasi.
July 7, 2009: Seventeen workers of a cracker factory were burnt to death in a fire accident in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu.
July 20, 2009: Eighteen people were killed and 33 injured 23 of them seriously, when a fire swept through the unit which makes crackers at Namaskarichanpatti in Virudhunagar District.
July 28, 2009: Three workers were killed in the mishap at Anil Fireworks in Keezha Tiruthangal village in Sivakasi
August 3, 2009: One died in the accident at Classic Fireworks in Meenampatti in Sivakasi.
August 29, 2009: Two workers were killed and three others injured in a fire accident at a cracker unit in Sattur.
March 30, 2010: One person was killed and six others injured in a blast at a country-made cracker unit on South Car Street in Dindigul.
August 5, 2010: An eight-year-old boy was killed in a fire accident reportedly at an illegal cracker unit functioning in a house near Sivakasi.
August 10, 2010: Eight state government officials suffered severe burns when firecrackers stored at an illegal godown they raided exploded accidentally at D Durai samypuram village, near Sivakasi.
August 26, 2010: A fireworks employee was killed in a fire accident in a cracker unit near Virudhunagar.
October 17, 2010: Three persons were charred to death and three others suffered burns when a godown of a cracker manufacturing unit at Ellappan Pettai village, near Cuddalore.
January 21, 2011: Eight workers were charred to death and sixteen, including five women, were injured in an explosion that took place at a fireworks unit near Virudhunagar.
March 22, 2011: Crackers worth lakhs of rupees were destroyed in a fire that broke out in a godown at A Lakshmiapuram, near Sivakasi.
June 5, 2011: A woman worker was killed and another injured in a fire accident at a cracker unit near Sattur.
August 6, 2011: Six women workers were killed in an accident following an explosion that took place in a fireworks factory near Sivakasi.
Oct 3, 2011: Two workers were killed in an explosion that took place in a fireworks factory near Sattur.
December 28, 2011: Four workers were killed on the spot and two others injured in an explosion at a cracker-manufacturing unit near Sivakasi.
February 3, 2012: A worker was injured in a fire accident at a fireworks unit in Sevalpatti on Friday.
Feb 28, 2012: Two labourers of a firecracker-manufacturing unit, who were seriously injured in a blast died at a private hospital in Madurai.
March 7, 2012: A blast at a fireworks unit in Sivakasi claimed the life of one worker and left another seriously injured. The incident occurred at National Paper Caps in Aiyanar Colony.
May 10, 2012: A 70-year-old man was burnt to death in an explosion at a fire cracker manufacturing unit in Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district.
March 27, 2012: Two workers who sustained serious burn injuries in a blast at a fireworks unit in Sankarapandiapuram near Sattur succumbed to the injuries at a private hospital in Madurai.
Aug 10, 2012: A worker at a cracker unit was critically injured in a fire accident at a fireworks unit at Thulukkakurichi near Vembakottai.
Aug 13, 2012: A woman employee of a fireworks unit was killed in a fire accident at a cracker unit in Maraneri near Virudhunagar.
Chinese firecrackers on the open market have on their Indian counterparts is no secret. Not only are they cheap, up to half the price, they are also colourful, give a bigger bang for the buck, but are infinitely more dangerous.
In schools and colleges, a common experiment is conducted to show the properties of oxygen.
Potassium Chlorate [KCLO3] and Manganese Dioxide [MNO2] are inserted into a test tube carefully, a single-holed stopped affixed and it is heated on a spirit lamp. Trained lab-attendants aid instructors maintaining the purity of reagents and through careful temperature control. Oxygen is then released into long deflagrating beaker. A burning strip of magnesium is introduced – whose flame sparkles in wild brightness. Teenagers are told – oxidation is hot, colourful, bright and dangerous.
Molten potassium chlorate is an extremely powerful oxidizer and spontaneously reacts with many common materials such as sugar. Crude mixtures of KCLO3, raw sugar and a drop of liquified oxygen [O2] – all of which are commercially, commonly available in India – can cause explosions comparable to catastrophic results of dynamite sticks triggered sans control.
Explosions have resulted from liquid chlorates spattering into the latex or PVC tubes of oxygen generators, as well as from contact between chlorates and hydrocarbon sealing greases.
Impurities in potassium chlorate itself can also cause problems.
When working with a new batch of potassium chlorate, it is advisable to take a small sample (1 gram) and heat it strongly on an open glass plate. Contamination may cause this small quantity to explode, indicating that the chlorate should be discarded.
Such procedures exist in school text books and in labs.
In practice this is never followed when chemicals are imported in large quantities into India, top customs officials said.
Potassium chlorate is used in chemical oxygen generators (also called chlorate candles or oxygen candles), employed as oxygen-supply systems of e.g. aircraft, space stations, and submarines, and has been responsible for at least one plane crash. A fire on the space station Mir was also traced to this substance.
There are 40 other pages of rules that govern the storage of explosives.
Stories are being circulated to suggest the Kerala temple firecracker “mishap” was an “unfortunate incident”!
The above paragraphs obviously suggest that the incident that took over 100 lives was as much manmade as the Kolkata Flyover Bridge crash was.
Are India’s media personalities and governmental watchdog bodies so awfully ill-informed that their blue-eyed-boys and girls are merely surface-skimming this incident and playing up or down the the whole thing linking them VVIP photo-op visits, suitable obituary mumblings with grave expressions? Or are these sections of a democratic society being bribed into silence?
The readership for my blog – despite being blocked by Google is growing.
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