NH4NO3: Code, explosive


Ammonium nitrate was used in the 13/7 Mumbai blasts and previously in terror strikes across the country, even as home ministry officials say they will implement a plan to curb its easy availability over the counter
Even though investigators have unearthed a sinister pattern -- the rampant use of ammonium nitrate as an ingredient in high intensity explosives -- in the terror attacks in Mumbai following July 13; in 2003 (the blast in a BEST bus in Ghatkopar, followed by the Mulund and Vile Parle railway blasts); 2006 (7/11 serial train blasts); the Jaipur blasts in 2008 and the German Bakery blast in Pune in 2010, there has been no curb on the sale of the chemical, that is easily available over the counter in shops selling chemicals for industrial use.

This has now emerged as a worrying factor for law enforcement agencies and forensic experts, despite the State Forensics Laboratories and other law enforcing agencies across the state of Maharashtra intimating the state and central home ministries about ammonium nitrate being the common ingredient in all these incidents.
Dr Rukmini Krishnamurthy, former director, State Forensics Laboratory, had sent numerous reminders to bring the issue to the ministry's notice.
She said, "Ammonium nitrate, which is easily available in chemical shops, is used as a fertiliser and an oxidising agent in laboratories. However, when mixed with a hydrocarbon (fuel), it makes a potent explosive mixture."
The matter is of grave concern since ammonium nitrate is easily available in stores that stock industrial fertilisers, and costs a mere Rs 50 per kg.
Speaking to Sunday MiD DAY from New Delhi, Union Home Secretary R K Singh agreed that a system to check the over-the-counter sale of the chemical needed to be implemented at the earliest. "There has to be a check on its sale across the country. I will have to go through the earlier references made by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on this, and only then will I be able to speak further," he said.
State Home Minister Satej Patil added, "It is definitely a matter of concern. We will work out a plan of action as soon as possible."
Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Umeshchandra Sarangi said, "We will look into all the aspects before offering a solution to restrict the sale of the chemical."
Meanwhile, a senior ATS official said, "The modalities are being examined to understand if such a check can be maintained on the sale, purchase and storage of ammonium nitrate."
Earlier, the state had imposed a ban on the easy sale of Acetic Anhydride, a chemical used to convert opium to brown sugar, added Krishnmurthy. "The restricted supply of the chemical reduced the availability of brown sugar, and a similar process is needed for ammonium nitrate," she said.