A public interest litigation (PIL) filed recently before the Bombay high court suggested systematic attempts are being made to derail the Indian nuclear programme, by killing Indian nuclear scientists.

The PIL cites instances of two high-ranking engineers, KK Josh and Abhish Shivam, working on India’s first nuclear-powered submarine, who were found lying on railway tracks by railway workers. They had not been hit by any trains, but had been allegedly poisoned earlier.

On February 23, 2010, M Iyer, an engineer working with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, was found dead in his residence. The police investigations reached a dead end, with forensic experts saying in all cases of unexplained deaths of scientists and engineers involved with the nuclear programme, there were no fingerprints or clues that could help the police identify the culprits. When nuclear scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam’s body was found in June 2009, it was passed off as a suicide.

The Bombay HC has now directed the Department of Atomic Energy, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board to respond to the issues raised in the PIL, filed by city RTI activist Chetan Kothari.

In his PIL, Kothari contended hundreds of nuclear scientists died under mysterious circumstances over the past 15 years, and many of those deaths were labelled suicides or unexplained deaths by the police. “India is turning out to be a dangerous place for nuclear scientists to work in,” the PIL said, adding, “The mysterious deaths have caused fear and tension among those currently working on various Indian nuclear projects, because of which many scientists have either shifted to other fields or moved out of India.” The PIL adds the “murders” have been executed with a high-degree of professionalism, possibly by top-class intelligence agencies.

“This could be a latest chapter in a long campaign aiming to derail Indian nuclear programme and restrict India’s technological capabilities,” the PIL said. The petitioner expressed apprehension the explosion that sunk INS Sindhurakshak in August 2014 could be “a deliberate act.” The court has posted the PIL for further hearing after eight weeks.