The Bombay high court on Friday ordered the Centre to disclose the measures it has taken to safeguard nuclear scientists from occupational hazards and dangers involved with working in vitally sensitive environments.
“We want a detailed report indicating how the mechanism you have put in place protects nuclear scientists who are working for the interests of the country,” said the division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Girish Kulkarni.
The bench gave the Atomic Energy Commission and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board four weeks to place on record the scheme or policy to protect Indian nuclear scientists from occupational hazards and external threats. It also asked for details of the compensation paid to the victims who have already faced such threats.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by RTI activist Chetan Kothari alleging that systematic attempts were being made to derail the Indian nuclear programme by silently killing Indian nuclear scientists. The PIL also alleged that the government was not giving due attention to the issue.
In his PIL — filed through advocate Ashish Mehta — Kothari has contended that hundreds of nuclear scientists engaged in various nuclear establishments across the country have died mysteriously in the last 15 years and many of those deaths have been classified by the police as either suicides or unexplained deaths.
According to the RTI activist, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has reported deaths of 680 employees during last 15 years out of which 69 are directly attributable to cancer and 611 deaths due to various illnesses and diseases. While the heavy water plant at Baroda reported 26 deaths, including one suicide, similar plants at Kota and Tutikorin reported 30 and 27 deaths respectively in last one-and-half decade. During this period 92 persons employed with Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalapakkam have expired and RTI queries by the petitioner revealed 16 of those deaths were suicidal.
The bench said that the PIL raised an important issue and sought to know if there was any proper investigation carried out in deaths purportedly claimed as mysterious in the PIL. Additional solicitor general Anil Singh, however, disputed the statistics mentioned in the petition saying the petitioner had given incorrect and inflated figures of deaths of nuclear scientists.
Regarding the occupational hazards involved in nuclear research and plants, he said the radiation levels are much below permitted scale and the government is extremely serious when it comes to deaths of nuclear scientists. “Our worry is that in future nobody will come to work there (as nuclear scientists), if what is stated in the PIL turns out to be true and it will badly affect the interests of the country,” it said. The judges clarified that they did not intend to find faults with the government, but wanted to ensure that there is a mechanism in place for tackling the issues as raised in the PIL and the mechanism works properly.