Last week, army officials claimed that a “” had been averted by them in Kashmir, when about 52 kg of explosives and 50 detonators were recovered from two water tanks in Kashmir’s Karewa. An army official said there were “416 packets of explosives”, each weighing 125 grams.
The Pulwama attack took place on February 14 last year, killing 40 CRPF personnel.
The operation last week was conducted by a joint team of the army, CRPF and the Jammu and Kashmir police, acting on a “tipoff about the presence of terrorists of...the Jaish-e-Mohammad”, according to a . An FIR has subsequently been lodged at Awantipora police station under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The packets of explosives each carried the manufacturing address of a Nagpur-based company, Amin Explosives Pvt Ltd. Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that explosives manufactured by this company were found at sites related to terror activities.
In 2007, when twin blasts took place in Hyderabad, the explosives used were , though the city police commissioner at the time called it a “creation of the media”. Forty-two people died in the explosions and over 50 were injured. Intelligence agencies stated that the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, a Bangladesh-based terrorist outfit, was suspected to be behind the attacks.
The managing director of Amin Explosives at the time, Sohail Amin, was questioned but was by the Nagpur police commissioner Satyapal Singh, now an MP with the Bharatiya Janata Party. “The manufacturer cannot be held responsible for the activities of the end user of explosives manufactured in his factory,” Singh said.
At the time, Sohail Amin said: “We have been manufacturing the explosive for over 50 years. It is used for blasting in construction and other businesses. We sell it to many distributors across the country.” According to Hindustan Times, he added that the company “sold to distributors” and had “had no idea where the stock may end up finally”.
But the company’s name cropped up again during an investigation into the 2009 Cheriyathura riot and police firing in Thiruvananthapuram, when six people died. Explosives were allegedly used by rioters, and were traced back to Amin Explosives. The Central Bureau of Investigation conducted a probe and found that Neo Gel-90 explosives had been procured from the company. The CBI was unable to establish who bought the explosives and how they reached Thiruvananthapuram.
So, what do we know about Amin Explosives?
The company was established in 2002, with its office at Amin Chambers in Nagpur’s Bhaldarpura. It was owned by Sohail Amin, and manufactured commercial explosives and detonators that are widely used in tunneling, mining and quarrying. Apart from Sohail Amin, the company’s directors were Joseph Paulose Kodoparam, Hamid Khan Sharif, and Ali Ashfaq Bombaywala, and it would supply explosives to, among others, government-owned organisations like Western Coalfields Ltd and Manganese Ore India Ltd.
The Amin Group also had five other companies under its umbrella: Amin Nitrate Pvt Ltd, Taj Explosive Carrier, Ideal Drilling and Blasting Pvt Ltd, Amin Enterprises, and Indian Bulk Transport.
A company called Special Blast Ltd, based in Raipur, also owned stakes in Amin Explosives. Special Blast Ltd is owned by Sanjay Choudhary and his brother Ajay. In 2012, Amin Explosives’ name was changed to SBL Energy Ltd. In 2016, the Choudhary brothers took over the company and Sohail Amin sold them all his shares.
SBL Energy Ltd’s clients include Coal India Ltd, Reliance Power, and the Steel Authority of India.
Newslaundry spoke to CS Parhadkar, the general manager of SBL Energy Ltd, to ask about the name “Amin Explosives” being connected to the explosives found during last week’s operation in Kashmir.
Parhadkar said the company’s name was changed in November 2012. “So, these explosives which you have queried about have been supplied before that,” he said. “This seems to be an old consignment.”
He said the process of supplying explosives is “very secure”, and “no commoner can acquire explosives in such a large quantity”. Customers require licenses from the Indian government — a license for sale or for use. License-holders who are users generally deal in mining, blasting, and other construction work, Parhadkar explained, while those with a license of sale resell it to users.
Customers express their intent for the supply of explosives through the website of the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation, he said, which is under the Minister of Commerce and Industry.
“We do cross-verification of their license and dispatch it through the website in a licensed van,” Parhadkar said. “The district collectors and superintendents of police of each and every district on the van’s route are informed about it. The commerce ministry also gives access to police superintendents and collectors to check the movement of the vehicles in their districts.”
At the manufacturing level, Parhadkar said, there is “a lot of scrutiny and security”.
“Pilferage generally happens at a user level, where explosives are used for road construction work or blasting tunnels. Although the users are licensed, it depends, person to person, whether they are handling such explosives for terror activities,” he said.
Newslaundry contacted Sohail Amin, the erstwhile managing director of Amin Explosives, and asked about the explosives found in Karewa. He said: “I am no longer associated with the company and I am not aware of it.” He did not respond to further queries.
When contacted, Sanjay Choudhary, the owner of SBL Energy Pvt Ltd, initially denied knowing anything about Amin Explosives. He then said: “It is none of your concern whether I have shares in Amin Explosives. I don’t know about this incident and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Newslaundry also reached out to Amitesh Kumar, the commissioner of police, Nagpur, but received no response.
‘Government must look into this very seriously’
Prabhu Dandriyal, a defence expert and former employee of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, said that terror blasts in India happen because of the “easy availability” of rare explosives.
“Although the procedures for supplying are very stringent, pilferage happens very easily,” he said. “Many a time, batches of explosives are purposely declared as ‘failed’. But instead of destroying these so-called failed batches in front of government authorities, some other raw material is destroyed and these batches of explosives are sent to undesirable people. This is the modus operandi of the pilferage of explosives.”
There’s a lot of money in the explosives industry, Dadriyal said, and the industry involves “very influential” people. “Monitoring agencies themselves defend such companies,” he said.
With respect to Amin Explosives, Dandriyal said the company’s name has cropped up “multiple times”, which “clearly indicates that there is some loophole”.
“Otherwise, the name of the same company does not appear in multiple incidents,” he explained. “Government agencies have to look into this matter very seriously. It’s not difficult to trail down the people responsible for it by using the batch number of the explosives, but it seems they have not done a thorough investigation when the name of Amin Explosives emerged for the first time in the Hyderabad blasts.”
An employee of the explosives department of the DRDO branch in Pune told Newslaundry that the pilferage of explosives happens at both commercial as well as defence organisations.
“However, nobody takes action against irregularities,” said the employee on the condition of anonymity. “Law enforcement agencies get compromised at higher levels and give clean chits to offenders. If explosives manufactured at a company are repeatedly found at terror blast sites, then it’s the duty of monitoring agencies to conduct a proper inquiry into the company to find loopholes.”
Major General (Retd) Prakash Panjikar believes that incidents like this have increased after private players have been tasked with supplying to tunneling agencies or road construction companies in forward areas.
“The roads in forward areas are generally built by border roads organisations who generally have military chaps as their commanding officers. But now, many companies have taken up the task of building roads in forward areas and buy commercial explosives in large quantities,” he said. “This is not a military grade explosive, but an explosive is an explosive.”
Commercial explosives are also used in large quantities in mines, Panjikar said. “These are the places where leakage happens, but the challenge which we had in front of us is how it got leaked,” he said. “It’s very important to find the people indulge in such pilferage, otherwise such incidents will keep occurring."
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