Ammo Warning Went Unheard: Victim's Kin
20 August 2007
The Indian Express
Srinagar: The brother of one of the 18 Army personnel killed in the ammunition depot fire in Kashmir last week, along with some other civilian employees of the depot, had written several letters to the Army top brass two years ago warning of improper recruitment and breach of safety at the dump. In letters written to the Chief of Army Staff, the employees had alleged largescale corruption in the recruitment of civilian staff at the depot. Fireman Harjeet Singh, whose 26-year- old brother Sarabjeet was among those killed and who was one of the chief complainants, says he received threatening calls after he sent the letters. On August 11, a chain of explosions at the 21 Field Ammunition Depot (FAD) at Khundroo, the largest in Kashmir, killed 18 personnel, including a Major and 13 Firemen, besides damaging houses and civilian properties in more than a dozen villages around the depot. Three personnel are still missing while more than 30 Armymen and villagers were injured. In two letters to the Chief of Army Staff, says Singh, they had asked for his personal interference to stop the malpractices, corruption and disregard for safety regulations at the depot. While the Army's administrative branch approached them to verify the veracity of their complaints, the fireman says no action was taken. Asked about the complaints made by the employees and the correspondence that followed, the Army PRO said he could say little as all the records had been burnt in the explosions. In September-October 2005, Singh and some depot employees wrote letters to the Army chief claiming that civilian employees were recruited improperly and expressed concern that militants could get their own men in. They also claimed that basic safety regulations were ignored regularly, and warned of the risk of a major accident. Singh claims that when Major V A S Johar (OIC Headquarters), Administrative Branch, did write back asking him about the veracity of his complaints, he approached him through the commandant of the depot, thus breaching the confidentiality of the complaint. Following this, Singh says, he and he and his family members received death threats. Pointing out that he had not received any response from the Army since his October 19, 2005, letter, Singh laments: 'If they had probed our written complaints, my brother's death could have been prevented.'