Two days after unsafely stored ammonium nitrate killed at least 135 people and injured thousands in Beirut, serious concerns have been raised about 740 tonnes of the explosive chemical that has remained in storage for years on the outskirts of Tamil Nadu capital Chennai, under the custody of the Customs Department.
Officials said an e-auction to dispose of the chemical "is in advanced stages".
The large consignment of the chemical - used in manufacturing fireworks and fertilisers - was meant for a group in the fireworks capital of India - Sivakasi. It was seized at the Chennai port in 2015 and has been lying there ever since. But, Chennai port officials said the pile of explosives is 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," an officer from the Public Relations Department of the Chennai Port said.
"We have ammonium nitrate at the Sattva container depot. This was illegally imported by Sri Amman Chemicals. We are working to dispose them, and shall give all the details soon," a senior Customs Department Officer told NDTV.
The officer also denied delay in disposal. "The matter went to court, which gave its ruling in November last year. We are in the advanced stages of an e-auction (for the chemical)," he added.
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs has directed field offices to verify within 48 hours that all explosive materials lying in Customs warehouses and ports meet safety and fire standards and pose no danger to people's lives. "CBIC has urgently directed Customs and field formations to immediately confirm and verify 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 board said in a tweet.
Citing the deadly Beirut tragedy, PMK Chief Dr Ramadoss today demanded safe disposal of the explosives.
"There is a risk of a similar explosion. To avert that the explosives ought to be disposed safely and used for manufacture of fertiliser and other needs," he tweeted.
About 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored in the Beirut port warehouse that exploded Tuesday, devastating large parts of the Lebanese capital. Early investigations blamed negligence for the explosion at the Beirut port.