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‘Biggest’ explosives haul

- Gelatine sticks, detonators near Maoist stronghold

Rampurhat, March 4: Over 600kg of high-intensity gelatine sticks and 975 detonators were today recovered from the houses of three farmers in Birbhum’s Rampurhat, a haul police said was the biggest in the district that shares its border with Maoist-infested areas of Jharkhand.

Police said the three farmers they arrested today were supposed to supply the gelatine sticks to illegal stone quarries, but added that chances of the trio selling the ammunition to Maoists in Jharkhand ahead of the Lok Sabha polls could not be ruled out.

“The village where the ammunition was found is near Maoist-infested areas of Jharkhand. The gelatine sticks could have been used to make improvised explosive devices ahead of the general election,” a police officer said.

Senbandha, where the explosives were recovered following a tip-off, is 3km from Shikaripara in Jharkhand, a known Maoist pocket.

The three arrested farmers — Basudev Ghosh, Sukdev Ghosh and Sujit Das — have been charged by Birbhum police under provisions of the explosives act. The trio have been remanded in three days’ police custody.

The police said the explosives had been manufactured in Nagpur and the farmers had bought them from “agents”.

Birbhum superintendent of police Alok Rajoria said: “We are interrogating the three…. This is the biggest recovery of explosives in the district.”

Another police officer said the gelatine sticks had been manufactured in a Nagpur-based company. “There were nearly 3,500 gelatine sticks in 25 cardboard boxes. The detonators were wrapped in plastic sheets.”

The officer said high-intensity gelatine sticks were used in iron ore mines and stone quarries. “The farmers told us that they had purchased the explosives from agents. They said they sold gelatine sticks to illegal stone quarries in Birbhum and Jharkhand.”

As the place where the explosives were seized is surrounded by Maoist-infested areas, the police are probing possible links between the farmers and the rebels.

Several parts of Birbhum share their borders with forested areas of Jharkhand. Police officers of Birbhum and the neighbouring state often hold meetings to discuss security.

Three months ago, Birbhum police had recovered 200 gelatine sticks and some detonators in Nalhati and Muraroi.

Today’s explosives haul comes days after equipment to make around 1,500 firearms were found in a Howrah house by a Bihar police team.

In Durgapur, around 7,000 low-intensity gelatine sticks and 6,000 detonators were seized from an SUV three days before Republic Day this year. The police had said the explosives were bound for Calcutta.

Asked about today’s haul in Birbhum, the inspector-general of police (western range) S.N. Gupta, said: “We are not ruling out the involvement of Maoists ahead of the polls. We are also trying to find out whether the consignment was for those involved in illegal mining.”