There have been a spate of deaths in India’s nuclear and atomic energy sector which are worrying but the government hasn’t given any security cover to the scientists working on its strategically important projects; in fact it describes the incidents as routine accidents and refuses to investigate any further.
As per the latest data provided by in government of India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), between 2009 and 2013, 11 nuclear scientists had unnatural deaths. While 8 of them died in a blast or by hanging or drowning in the sea, 3 died under mysterious circumstances – two allegedly committed suicide while the other died in a road accident. Apart from these 11, 15 more lost their lives mysteriously but since losing people who are important to national interest is a thing India seems to be fine with, these deaths ended up being classified as unexplained killings.
On June 8, 2009, L. Mahalingam, a 47-year-old senior scientific officer at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karwar, Karnataka, went on a morning walk and never returned. Five days later, his decomposed body was found from the Kali River. Mahalingam had access to some of the country’s most sensitive nuclear information. Police is still not clear whether he had accidentally fallen into the river or if it was an act of suicide or a murder.
Two young researchers, Umang Singh and Partha Pratim Bag, were burnt to death in a mysterious fire in the modular lab of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre’s radiation and photochemistry department on December 30, 2009. There was nothing inflammable in the lab. To this day, neither Umang’s family nor Partha’s family know the exact cause of the fire.
In October 2013, KK Joshi and Abhish Shivam, engineers on India’s first nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant, were found dead on railway tracks in Vishakhapatnam. While the police didn’t find any suspicious marks on the bodies, their families allege that that they could have been killed elsewhere before being placed on the railway tracks to make the deaths look like a suicide.
Interestingly, nearly 50 years ago ‘father of Indian nuclear program’ Homi J Bhabha lost his life in a controversial plane crash in the Swiss Alps near Mt. Blanc. No debris was ever found and nothing substantial explaining the cause of crash was ever brought before the public. Bhabha died soon after he publicly said India could produce a nuclear device in a short time.
It’s not just the scientists working on nuclear programs that are dying horrific deaths. India’s space program too has been subject to controversy. In a 15-year period, the Indian Space Research Organization lost 684 personnel. That’s 45 deaths per year.
Why doesn’t any of the investigation ever give any concrete result? Who benefits the most from these killings? In case of Homi Bhabha’s death it was suspected that the CIA was behind the crash to derail India’s nuclear program. But what about the latest list of suspicious deaths? Why is India not making any noise about the whole thing? Why is the media ignoring a sensitive issue? Shouldn’t the police version, which describes these incidents as normal kinds of death, be challenged?
Dr. A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, is irked by the questions on the mysterious deaths. “There are many people working in this field, some may die, it is quite natural. I don’t know anything more about it,” he said to The News Minute.
The most pressing issue isn’t who might be behind the murders, but that the Indian government’s apathy is potentially putting its high-value staff at even greater risk.