Maharashtra/New Delhi: At least 16 defence personnel, including two Army officers and one of them a Keralite, were on Tuesday killed in a massive fire that broke out at one of Asia’s biggest ammunition depot in Maharashtra’s Pulgaon that houses the largest stockpile of weapons in the country.
The deceased Keralite has been identified as major K. Manojkumar, a native of Haripad in Alappuzha. His parents had moved to Thiruvananthapuram a while ago. Major Manojkumar was supposed to come to Kerala in a few days for his mother’s surgery.
Manojkumar, who had been working in Pulgaon arms depot for the last two years, is surived by wife Beena and son Vedanth. Beena and Manojkumar’s brother Santhosh went to Nagpur upon hearing the news of the officer’s demise. An IANS report said the other deceased officer was identified as Lt. Col. R.S. Pawar.
Fire doused completely
The fire which started at 1 am at one of the sheds that housed ‘highly sensitive ammunition’ in the high security central ammunition depot (CAD), spread over 7,000 acres, has been completely doused and the situation brought under control after an overnight operation.
“However, in efforts to douse the fire, two officers and 14 personnel (to include one Army jawan and 13 civilian fire fighting staff) lost their lives and two officers and 15 personnel (to include nine Army Jawans and six civilian fire fighting staff) were injured,” Director General of Military Operations Lt Gen Ranbir Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
Loud explosions were heard one after the other as the raging firelit up the night sky. The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained and the Army has instituted an inquiry into the incident, Singh said. “Actions to assess the damage are in progress,” the DGMO said. The Army had earlier put the casualty at 17 which has now been revised to 16. It had also earlier said the majority of personnel killed were Defence Security Corps jawans.
Parrikar visits site, rules out sabotage
Following a directive from prime minister Narendra Modi, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who was in Pune, rushed to the spot. Army chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag also visited the site. Addressing media in Vardha, Parrikar said there was no sabotage involved in the fire but the exact cause would be known only after inquiry.
“We are not ruling out any possibility but there is no sabotage as such,” he told reporters here.
Fire was contained with timely help from all the concerned persons and only a complete inquiry will reveal its cause, Parrikar said. It is too early to speculate about the cause, he added. Parrikar, who visited the injured personnel at the Datta Meghe Medical College and Hospital at Sawangi Meghe in the district, said 130 tonnes of antitank mines were destroyed in the fire. However, the 16 persons who lost their lives while trying to douse it succeeded in saving the ammunition stored in nine other sheds, the minister said.
Parrikar, accompanied by the Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, spent more than halfanhour meeting the injured personnel at the hospital.
Pained by loss of lives: PM Modi
Earlier in the day, Modi tweeted, “Pained by loss of lives caused by a fire at central ammunition depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra. My thoughts are with the bereaved families.
“I pray that those who are injured recover quickly. Have asked RM @manoharparrikar to visit the spot & take stock of the situation”, he said. CAD, Pulgaon is located at about 115 Km from Nagpur, in Maharashtra.
The depot is spread over an area of more than 7000 acres and is an important ammunition depot of the Indian Army. Stocks including bombs, grenades, shells, assorted rifles, missiles and other explosives from various factories comes here first and is then distributed to various forward areas.
As per initial reports, the fire started in one of the sheds at approximately 0100h Tuesday morning, and immediate action was taken by the fire fighting parties and Quick Reaction Teams located in the depot by putting the fire fighting mechanism into place as per the laid down procedures.
“This restricted the fire to one shed only which contained highly sensitive ammunition,” Lt Gen Singh said. The injured personnel have been evacuated to Multi Specialty Hospital, Wardha (35 Km from Pulgaon) and are undergoing medical treatment.
The medical condition of the injured personnel is reported to be stable, the DGMO said adding Army medical teams have been moved from Pune to provide specialist medical attention. He expressed deep condolences to the families of the brave hearts who have lost their lives while protecting and securing the important ammunition depot.
There have been many instances of explosions causing blazes at various ordnance depots in India that has the world’s third largest army after the US and China.
The then defence minister A.K. Antony in 2012 told Parliament that India had lost about Rs 710 crore, or $140 million, worth of arms and ammunition in five incidents of fire at depots in Kashmir’s Khundroo, Gujarat’s Bhuj and Panagarh in West Bengal.