Customs officials on Thursday assuaged concerns related to the storage of nearly 700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at a container freight station near Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai. The Centre said that officials had been asked to confirm within 48 hours that the chemicals meet all safety and fire standards.
The clarification came amid fears of an explosion similar to the one that occurred on Tuesday in Beirut, Lebanon. The explosion caused 135 deaths and injured around 5,000 people.
“CBIC [Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs] has urgently directed Customs and field formations to immediately verify and confirm within 48 hours that any hazardous and explosive material lying in warehouses and ports across the country meets all safety and fire standards and presents no danger to life and property,” the government statement read. “This precautionary step has been taken in view of the recent incident of an explosion in a foreign country caused by such material.”
The chemical, worth Rs 1.80 crore, stored in Chennai was recovered in 2015 from a Tamil Nadu-based importer, who had allegedly declared it as a fertiliser grade although it was explosive grade, an unidentified customs official told PTI.
The official added that the consignment, imported from South Korea, was safe and an e-auction process was going to clear it. The containers were seized in 2015 and had been at the Chennai warehouse, while the importer’s licence had been cancelled. Seven tonnes of the chemical was spoilt during the flooding, the official said. The rest of the material was being e-auctioned.
Another unidentified customs official refuted rumours of a delay in disposing of the chemical and said that the matter had gone to court that delivered its ruling in November, reported NDTV.
The officer also claimed that chemicals were not stored in the harbor anymore. “Around 36 containers, each with around 20 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, have been shifted long time ago and now they are under the Customs Department’s control,” the officer said.
Pattali Makkal Katchi founder S Ramadoss on Thursday appealed to the government to immediately dispose of the ammonium nitrate, and raised concerns about a Beirut-like situation. “...the ammonium nitrate explosive substance in the warehouse should be safely disposed of and used for other purposes such as composting,” he said.
Beirut twin explosion
The toll in the twin explosions in Beirut rose to 135 on Wednesday. Videos of the powerful explosion on Tuesday showed an orange cloud in the city’s skyline that devastated the harbour and shattered windows several kilometres away. Buildings 10 km away from the site of the blast were damaged. The government on Wednesday declared a two-week state of emergency in the city.