CHENNAI: Manali new town with a population of about 7,000 people and Sadayankuppam village which has a population of 5,000 are located dangerously close to M/s Sattva Container Freight Station (CFS), where 740 metric tonnes of hazardous ammonium nitrate have been stored since September 2015.
A joint inspection was carried out by officials of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), police and fire and rescue services on Thursday. The report, which was accessed by The New Indian Express, reveals that Manali new town is just 700 metres from CFS, while Sadayankuppam village is 1.5 km away.
This stands contrary to the claim made by Joint Commissioner of Customs (Preventive) T Samaya Murali, who said the CFS was located 20 kms away from Chennai and "there is no residential locality within the vicinity of 2 km from this CFS." Any mishap would mean the loss of thousands of lives. The Beirut explosion in Lebanon was reportedly felt for 10 km.
Babu, a resident of Mattur in Manali, said in the 5 km radius of CFS, there are several industries like Indian Oil, Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited etc. "We never knew danger was lurking behind our backyard. If something goes wrong, several towns would be wiped out."
Meanwhile, the Customs official who was present during the joint inspection said, "The bidding for the utilisation of ammonium nitrate by beneficiaries has been called for and the process will be completed within three days."
TNPCB officials told The New Indian Express that there are 37 containers each having 20 metric tonnes, totalling 740 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in the CFS.
The pollution board has directed the Commissioner of Customs to take immediate action to clear the stored ammonium nitrate from the CFS and also asked the Director Industrial Safety and Health to inspect the CFS and take necessary action as per the provisions of Manufacture Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical rules, 1989.
The CFS was also directed to earmark the ammonium nitrate storage area and engage security personnel to safeguard it till the clearance of the containers by the Customs Department.
It can be recalled that Chennai customs has seized 740 metric tonnes of imported ammonium nitrate due to import policy restrictions prescribed by the Centre under the Customs Act 1962 read with Explosive Act 1884 and Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012.
Customs officials claimed the cargo was kept in safe custody at the CFS in Manali. The seized cargo was securely stored and all safety measures are being taken by the CFS and monitored by the Customs to ensure public safety, they said. Also, the process of disposal of the said cargo has been taken up promptly by the customs and e-auction has already been completed. The disposal of the cargo will be done within a short period, following all safety measures, officials said.