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CIMA Gallary

City hospital blast, chemical theory floated

Calcutta, June 30: A “tin can” exploded at the Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital as a sweeper’s broom hit it this morning, smashing windowpanes 10ft away in a portion of the facility that would have been teeming with outpatients in two hours.

The sweeper has been admitted to the hospital with injuries in the eye and all over his body.

The hospital authorities tried to downplay the 7am explosion, suggesting a chemical reaction involving waste may have triggered it.

“Police are yet to tell us what caused the blast. We have formed a five-member inquiry committee of doctors,” said Partha Pradhan, medical superintendent of the hospital.

Health department spokesperson Asit Biswas said: “We are reviewing how to upgrade security at the hospital.”

Amit Raut, the injured sweeper, said he saw a tin can among the garbage in a corner of the outpatient department. He said the explosion occurred the moment it hit the wall after being brushed aside.

“I was clearing garbage piled in front of an electric room when the blast happened,” he said.

Doctors said Raut suffered minor abrasions all over his body. “His eye injury was caused by smoke and dust,” Pradhan said.

He skirted the question whether Raut had suffered splinter injuries. “The police have not found any splinters.”

A forensic expert corroborated that a team that visited the hospital had “not found any splinter activity in the place of occurrence”. He said the blast “appeared” to be caused by a chemical reaction.

Hospital sources dismissed suggestions that the can was a crude bomb.

“No signs of explosives have been found. Some chemical must have been dumped in the corridor and it reacted with some other chemical, resulting in the explosion,” a hospital official said.

“Chances are that some sulphurous compound had reacted with some other chemical resulting in the low-intensity explosion. The presence of some other substance like a carbide compound cannot be ruled out, either.”

Doctors, however, said sulphurous and carbide compounds were not used in hospitals.

“These are used in chemical laboratories. So, it should be probed why these were brought into the hospital OPD,” a doctor said.

The police said no evidence of a tin can had been found. “There are no burn marks on the victim’s body, which happens in case of splinter injuries. No splinter marks were found on the wall, either,” a police officer said.

“The vapour detector has ruled out the presence of any explosive material used in bombs,” he added.

The police have found a green plastic bottle near the blast site. “We have sent the bottle for tests,” an officer said.

Had the explosion taken place a little later, hospital sources said, more people could have been injured.

“The OPDs start at 9.30am but the tickets are issued from 9am. The corridor remains overcrowded till around 4pm,” an official said. On an average, 3,500 patients come to the OPD every day. During OPD hours, at least 8,000 more are present.

Hospital sources said the building has three gates.

“All three are kept open during the OPD hours. For the rest of the day, two gates are kept closed,” a hospital source said.

He said open gates are supposed to be manned by private security personnel and the police. The offices of the ward master and a private security agency are near the blast site.

“It’s difficult for an outsider to hide explosives in that section. It seems to be the job of an insider,” an official said.

Hospital sources said the lack of CCTV surveillance was a cause for concern, especially in the dark corridors.