Visakhapatnam city police on Tuesday canceled the No Objection Certificate (NOC) given to a local shipping company after it was found that the latter had violated several provisions of the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012, including having their storage facilities close to vital establishments of 'national security importance'.
On September 12, a show-cause notice was given to Sravan Shipping Services Private Limited, located at Chukkavanipalem village, Gajuwaka, for storing 18,700 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a gross violation of safety provisions, non-maintenance of records and license conditions in constructing storehouses.
Police Commissioner Manish Kumar Sinha sought a reply from the copy within seven days and warned that the no-objection certificate (NOC) of the firm would be canceled if the reply was not satisfactory.
Lebanon incident - a lesson for the world
After a vast amount of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Lebanese capital of Beirut in August this year, officials in port cities across India have attempted to crackdown on the perilous storage of the chemical substance.
The storage facilities are located close to places such as the airport, Bharat Heavy Plate and Vessels Limited, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Gas Authority of India Limited, Visakhapatnam Port Trust, Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited and other critical establishments within a 10-km radius.
Among the 10 storage facilities in Visakhapatnam, four of them were closer to populated areas such as Mindi, Akkireddypalem, Mulagada and Yeruduvanipalem and other habitations, the police said.
Series of storage violations
The police also found violations of license conditions in constructing the storehouses with different dimensions and not keeping the legal safety distance as specified in the original site plan.
At least six facilities were constructed in violation of the rules. As per Ammonium Nitrate Rules 2012, 12 (4)(a)(ii), for storage capacity exceeding 30 metric tonnes, a 'safety distance' of 9 meters from the storehouse to the compound and 90 meters from any 'protected works' needs to be maintained. But during our inspection, we found that the mandatory 'safety distance' was not being followed, said a police officer.
The mandatory safety distance is for the movement of fire engines and other emergency services in the event of a critical situation.
The officer said, "As per the guidelines, for every square meter of land, the storage house should have the capacity to store 1 tonne of ammonium nitrate. So, for storing 5,000 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate, Sravan Shipping Services should have had 5,000 square meters of land. However, on ground, their measurements are varying."
The storage facility is also close to a school identified as 'protected works' under the Ammonium Nitrate Rules of 2012.
Besides these violations, during their visit, the police also found that in one of the storage houses, the mandated protocol of maintaining a gap between stacks of ammonium nitrate was not being followed and they were all dumped in one place. According to the police, there should be a distance of at least two meters between the stacks and 1.6-meter distance between the wall and the stacks.
In a letter sent to Sravan Shipping by the Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives, Visakhapatnam, the firm has been asked to intimate regarding the ammonium nitrate presently stored in the warehouse and "necessary permission for disposal shall be accorded from the CCE, Nagpur."
Action against the company was initiated following a panic safety checking after the Beirut explosion. The deadly explosion, which took place past 6 pm in Beirut on August 4, killed 200, injured over 6,000 and rendered an estimated 300,000 people homeless due to the massive property damage it caused. Following the blast, authorities in Chennai woke up to 740 tonnes of the chemical stored at a warehouse in the city. It was later shifted to Hyderabad.