The DAE, through its various branches, plays a crucial role in enhancing India’s “nuclear power” and works in fields such as developing fast breeder reactors, thorium-based reactors, building and operating research reactors for the production of radioisotopes, building other sources of radiation such as accelerators and lasers, and developing and deploying radiation technology applications.
A section within the security apparatus feels that a systemic effort is being made by internal forces, with support from influential external organisations over the last two decades to target officials who are engaged in nuclear development in India to slow down the country’s march towards nuclear independence and development of tools needed for “self preservation”.
According to the RTI response given by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), which comes under the DAE, 38 of its officials had unnatural deaths in the time period between 1 January 2008 and 1 October 2016. As per the response, “the unnatural death(s) of these 38 officials who were engaged in scientific, technical, administrative works have occurred due to accidents at various locations”.
BARC, in its reply, despite the newspaper asking for it, has not disclosed the designations of the officials, the dates of the accidents and the projects in which the deceased officials were working at the time of death.
BARC is India’s premier nuclear research facility based in Maharashtra’s Trombay. It is a multi-disciplinary research centre with extensive infrastructure for advanced research and development covering the entire spectrum of nuclear science, engineering and related areas. It also manages all facets of nuclear power generation, from theoretical design of reactors, computerised modelling and simulation to risk analysis, development and testing of new reactor fuel materials in the country.
15 personnel of the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) died due to unnatural causes such as hanging, suicide, drowning in water and accident. AMD is the oldest unit of the DAE and carries out geological exploration and discovery of mineral deposits required for India’s nuclear power programme. The dead personnel worked in different posts such as technician, work assistant, helper, upper divisional clerk, etc.
Similarly, 12 officials working with the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, have died due to unnatural causes including suicide (4) and road and train accidents (8) in the last eight years. IGCAR is one of India’s premier nuclear research centres and the second largest establishment of the DAE after Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
The rest of the five officials in different establishments of the DAE too died due to accidents. Replies from a few more DAE establishments were to be received when this report was filed.
Sources said that the reasons for the death of these 70 people ranged from being murdered at home to jumping into sea, jumping in front of train, jumping into river or committing suicide, which mostly took place when they were alone at home.
“No inquiry was ever ordered by either this government or the previous government to look into this high number of ‘unnatural deaths’ of officials who were associated with India’s nuclear programme. It is very surprising that so many officials were either killed in accidents or committed suicide in a short period of less than 10 years. Even though some of those who have died were not scientists, yet they had access to critical information which could have been extracted from them through different means. Some of these officials were working on strategic matters at the time of their deaths but their deaths were passed off by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the DAE and the media as natural occurrences,” an official with a security agency stated.