Amidst the Covid 19 crisis, the Army has worked overtime since January this year to complete a mammoth explosives clearance drive, which is being billed as the largest such exercise undertaken since World War II .

Bomb disposal teams of the Pulgaon based Central Ammunition Depot were tasked with clearing stockpiles of seized explosives and dangerous scrap material, following the Beirut port explosion last year, which raised awareness about the danger of such materials at yards close to inhabited areas.

ET has been told that that post the Beirut incident, the ministry of home affairs approached the department of military affairs for assistance in neutralising and clearing seized explosives strewn across urban centres like Mumbai, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kanpur and the port towns of Kundla and Mundra.

The fear was that seized explosive material, a lot which had been illegally imported from war torn countries as part of metal scrap could pose a risk to populated areas. A lot of scrap metal had reached Indian shores in recent years, specially from conflict hit middle east and had been placed at dump yards after inspections.

After the Department of Military Affairs was approached in December last year, the bomb disposal teams from Pulgaon were pressed into action for an urgent clearance mission for Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and Unexploded Ordnance (UXOs), some of which had been lying at yards for over three decades.

Small squads of explosives experts were deployed by the army to first identify and segregate the threats, followed by which the dangerous explosives were moved from various locations to Pulgaon. “Each team worked round the clock to painstakingly scan through each of the extremely deteriorated Shells, Rockets, Bombs Grenades, Mortars and other innumerable War Scrap and carefully segregate all those with explosive content left in them and neutralize them simultaneously,” sources said.

The task was specially challenging as decades of storage had resulted in accumulation of dirt and mud on scrap material, making identification and transport extremely difficult. Also, a lot of the ammunition was of Gulf and NATO origin, making it very different from the explosives used in India on which soldiers have expertise.

“The teams carefully handled and scanned through more than 1600 Metric Tons of War Scrap with their bare hands. They were then able to segregate, and make safe for transport, the most dangerous of the scrap which had a very high content of RDX and TNT,” source said.

Alarmingly, the teams found over 2,500 kg of RDX and TNT during the clearing exercise, which could have resulted in substantial damage to the urban population in the vicinity. The city most at danger was Mumbai and was given the highest priority during the mission. The clearing phase of the operation was completed last month but a big task remains ahead as the final disposal of the explosives is to take over during the next few months at Pulgaon.