"Where there is some project, they need explosives"

Nagpal Tea Stall, 29 Rajpur Road, Dehradun. Raju sips his tea, eyes glued to the television. Then his eyes light up as he hears talk of Bhutan. He strikes up a conversation with Nitin Sethi

By Nitin Sethi
Published: Sunday 15 August 2004

You live in Bhutan? Or Assam?

No, I don't.
Sorry, but you were talking of that area.

I am a journalist; occasionally travel there.
I have also travelled all over that region. Bhutan. Deep into Assam, Siliguri.

I used to carry explosives to the region.

I work for Mangliks.They supply explosives.

Supply explosives from Dehradun? Trucks carrying explosives?

Yes, I used to drive their trucks. We used to go as far as Arunachal Pradesh. Very risky area. I have been to Nepal, China, and Bhutan too.

What was the supply for?

Projects -- dams and mining, powerhouses, tunnels. Lots of these are coming up in the Northeast region, you must know of them? Where there is some project, they need explosives.

And you would just turn up with it?
The army escorted us in Assam. We used to reach this point on the border and wait for them. They would drive ahead of us as well as at the end of the convoy all the way to the projects.

We used to hear a lot about them, sitting on trees, waiting to ambush convoys. We were always very scared. There used to be at most ten trucks. Some carried the gelatine and the rest carried detonators -- they are never carried together. Each truck can carry maximum nine tonnes of gelatine, no more, no less, packed in 360 cases. See, there are separate laws to control the transport of explosives.

It must be dangerous?
It always is. Once the truck left the magazine (storehouse) at Dehradun it would take about four days to reach. We couldn't park just anywhere. Had to always be careful to park it at a distance from wires, any kind of fire, dhabas (roadside restaurants). We are not allowed to take more than three people in the truck, unlike in regular trucks, two drivers and one helper.

Did you make money on the side, like other trucks do?
Oh we managed. Not ferrying people, like others. When our trucks were empty we would pick up betel leaves or even farm chicken and sell them on our way back. Made some handy money in the process. The dhabas we stopped at would buy this stuff from us.

Did you need army escort in Nepal or Bhutan?
No, in those parts there is no problem. And, the companies working there were Indian.

What kind of work were they into?
Same. Dams, mining. A lot of explosives also go to Rajasthan. Our company trucks go there, and Madhya Pradesh as well.

Why Rajasthan?
They do a lot of mining there. They blast the hills a lot for some black-coloured mineral, I don't exactly know what it is.

Does your company manufacture the explosive in Dehradun?
No. Explosives come from Ranchi, in Jharkhand or Bihar. I am also from Ranchi.

It's brought here and then sent to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh?
This is how it is. They are stored in magazines here; our seth (company owner) has a licence to sell them. Explosives also come from the South -- Vishakapatnam -- and Madhya Pradesh. We then send them wherever we get an order from. Usually each site asks for it once in three or six months, so we take a large amount which they store and use over a period.

How did you get into this?
I lived in Hazaribag. My parents passed away, and I ran away from my house. My elder brother took up agriculture. I came to Ranchi. My guru then got me a licence in 1993 for commercial big vehicles. I also worked in Jammu for six years. Then I started driving explosive trucks. One day I came to Dehradun to deliver explosives and the company people said stay and work here. I did. But now I drive the seth's car.

Don't want to go back?
Don't know, it gets difficult to stay just for a night and I can't go back permanently. I am not a farmer. And now I can't learn how to farm, it's not something that can be picked up later in life. Anyways, I have to go now. I sit here (at Nagpal's) from two to six and then drive him around in the evening again.

You mind if I publish this?
Do whatever, I have not told you a lie. Our seth is not like the others, there is no illegal trade here, he is satisfied to run his business at an easy pace, unlike others.

Can I use your photo too?
You decide.

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