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Questions raised over nuclear scientists’ suicide data

india Updated: Oct 10, 2015 01:30 IST
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Hindustan Times

Nuclear research reactors within the premises of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, on the outskirts of Mumbai.(AP )

The department of atomic energy appears to be underreporting unnatural deaths of its employees as data show a substantial number of staff suicides at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai over six years since 2008.

The DAE, the nation’s nuclear energy development regulator, said in a recent affidavit filed in Bombay high court that only three BARC employees committed suicide between 1995 and 2014.

The affidavit said the death rate from suicides in the premier nuclear research organisation was much less than the national average. The statement was in response to a petition demanding special investigation into unnatural deaths of nuclear scientists in India.

But a DAE confidential note pegged the number of suicides of BARC employees between 2008 and 2013 at 11. This note on unnatural deaths of its staff members was sent to the prime minister’s office in December 2013.

Ashish Mehta, the petitioner’s counsel, alleged the DAE was deliberately downplaying the number of suicides by its employees to avoid inquiry. “An investigation could throw up several findings that may be uncomfortable to the government,” he said.

Read | 11 nuclear scientists died in mysterious circumstances in 4 years

Data in the confidential note show more than 40% of deaths of BARC employees between 2008 and 2013 were because of suicides — much higher than the national average of 3% suicide deaths quoted in the affidavit.

The DAE affidavit said only one employee committed suicide on BARC’s Mysore campus between 1995 and 2014. But the confidential note reported three suicides on the same campus during 2008 to 2013. It further noted that only six DAE employees working in nuclear development units across the country committed suicide between 2010 and 2014.

The confidential note was again at odds with the affidavit, reporting at least 28 suicides by DAE employees in six years since 2008.

The petitioner, Mumbai-based RTI activist Chetan Kothari, demanded tough measures to ensure safety to nuclear scientists or personnel working in various nuclear installations in the country.

“Not only has our prestigious scientific community been plagued by suicides, unexplained deaths and sabotage but those incidents have gone mostly underreported in the country.”

The petition said police haven’t found in most cases the actual reason behind the suicide and murder of people working in nuclear facilities.

But the DAE told the court that the petitioner’s demand for a special investigation team “will not bear any worthwhile outcome, rather it will be a drain on the resources of the country”.

RP Raju, controller at BARC, refused to elaborate on the number disparity.

“The matter is sub judice and it will not be appropriate to provide any response to your queries at this stage,” he told HT.