Of mysterious deaths

This article was published on October 13, 2014 at The Hindu Business Line

Besides the suicides, there has been a series of other unnatural deaths involving employees of the DAE. At least 10 DAE employees lost their lives between 2009-2013 in murders and mysterious fires. Some employees have also disappeared only to be found dead later.

It is hard to get similar data on the nuclear programmes of other countries, especially those of superpowers such as the US and China. At most, there have been rare reports on suspected deaths of scientists (See: International incidents).

As recently as October 2013, KK Joshi and Abhish Shivam, engineers connected with building the indigenous nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant, were found dead on railway tracks in Visakhapatnam. In 2012, Mohammad Mustafa, a scientist at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam (IGCAR) was found dead with his wrists slashed. In early 2010, BARC’s Mahadevan Padmanabhan Iyer, a scientist, was found dead at his home. It was initially deemed a suicide and later declared a murder. In February 2010, S Ananthanarayanan, a scientist with IGCAR, after going missing for several weeks, was found dead on a railway track in Chennai. In 2009, Umang Pal and Partha Pratim Bagh died in a fire on BARC’s premises.

L Mahalingam, a scientist with the Kaiga Atomic Power Station, went missing in June 2009. His body was later found in the Kalindi river in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. However, according to reports, police sources said that it was not clear whether he had accidentally fallen into the river or if it was an act of suicide. Police didn’t rule out the possibility of murder. A couple of weeks before Mahalingam went missing, another employee of the Nuclear Power Corporation India Ltd, Ravi Mule, went missing and was later declared murdered — his brother made his own efforts to investigate after police failed to make any headway.

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Conspiracy theories

As in the death of DAE founder Homi Bhabha, conspiracy theories abound. “The issue needs to be viewed from the perspective of a security threat, both internal and external,” says Madhav Nalapat, Director of the Geopolitics and International Relations Department at Manipal University, who has closely monitored the community as a journalist. “There are strong forces on the outside that are looking to derail India’s nuclear programme,” he adds.

However, BARC’s Director Shekhar Basu says: “We are not in a position to comment on Madhav Nalapat’s observations, because we are not aware on what basis these comments are made.”

The instances of unnatural deaths have led to experts like D Dhanuraj, Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research, to call for a specialised security agency to protect the installations and the people working there.

Be it a suicide or a murder, the country can’t afford to lose precious talent. But, points out Nalapat, “These are all unsolved cases and are completely off the radar of the Government. There is still no protection provided to the nuclear fraternity,” he adds.