The recovery of 20 gelatin sticks from a vehicle parked outside Antilla, the residence of industrialist Mukesh Ambani on February 25, has sparked off a major political upheaval in Maharashtra. The Indian Express explains the importance of gelatin, where it is used and the rules laid down for its procurement.
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What are gelatin sticks?
Gelatin sticks are cheap explosive materials used by industries for the purpose of mining and construction related work, like building structures, roads, rails and tunnels etc. They cannot be used without a detonator.
Who manufactured gelatin sticks?
Only licensed explosive manufacturers can make gelatin sticks. The manufacture is regulated by Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO), formerly known as Department of Explosives. Since its inception on September 5, 1898, it has been the nodal agency for regulating safety of hazardous substances such as explosives, compressed gas and petroleum. These substances include gelatin sticks.
As per PESO’s website, the body looks after the approval, grant, amendment and renewal etc. of various licenses and permits regarding manufacture, testing, authorisation, storage, transportation, use, import, and export of explosives. The PESO comes under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and carries out administration work of the Explosive Act 1884 and Explosives Rules 2008 etc.
Who made the gelatin sticks found outside Ambani’s home?
They were traced to a Nagpur-based company, Solar Industries limited, a senior official of the company told The Indian Express.
Did the company say anything about this?
The company, in a press statement, said as per the Explosives Rules 2008, and a directive of the Government of India (DIPP – Ministry of Industry and PESO – Chief Controller of Explosives), all its production and sales data was available with the PESO and the police.
On the process of sale of explosives, and who might have purchased the explosives that raised the security scare, the company said: “The customer raises an indent online in specific form RE-11 and it is routed through the Explosives department (PESO) portal and on receipt of RE-11 we submit the details of each supplies (all boxes with bar code) to PESO and police department with on line in Form RE-12. All data related to technical, manufacturing & sales are available in PESO portal and police department. It can be tracked to last point of dispatch of each box of 25 kgs but loose cartridges are not yet bar-coded. (The process is under implementation by Government of India). (By itself) an explosive cartridge cannot be exploded without any initiating system (detonators). Even if you drop, cut or burn, this explosive will not be exploded.”
If every box of gelatin sticks is barcoded, why have the police not been able to trace the persons who bought the gelatin sticks?
Loose sticks are not bar coded yet. The government has recently introduced a rule that individual explosives should also be barcoded. “We are following government guidelines to barcode every cartridge, and we are implementing the measure which will take six months or so,” the company said.
Prior license is required not just to make, but also to sell and buy explosives. According to police sources, detonators are priced at Rs 1,600 per box of 200 pieces and gelatin sticks are priced at Rs 1,600 per box of 180 pieces. Licensed private companies who buy in bulk may not make use of all the gelatin sticks they buy, and may sell it onward in the black market. The rates are usually Rs 3,000 per box of detonators and Rs 4,500 per box of gelatin sticks. In turn, these black market retailers sell it for Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000, respectively. The customers may be small time contractors who use it in construction work or private individuals who mainly use it to blast wells.
Have gelatin sticks ever been used for terror attacks, and what needs to be done to ensure they are not misused for terror activities?
From 2002 till 2003, gelatin sticks were used in attacks by a terror organisation called the Gujarat Muslim Revenge Force in Mumbai. In one of these attacks, the gelatin sticks had been sourced from a quarry on the outskirts of Hyderabad, said a former chief of Anti-Terrorism Squad in Maharashtra.
“Even if the gelatin sticks are barcoded, once the blast takes place this measure is of no use. Hence, to avoid any such incident, very close monitoring of manufactures and sellers is required. Every year, before an important event like Republic Day or Ganpati festival, the local police, as one of the preventive measures, keeps a tab to find out all explosive materials bought in the city being used for construction work and ensure it is accounted for. The buyer and the seller have to maintain records of the explosives and these records need to be checked periodically without fail by the government authorities,” an official said.