Tuesday, 18 August 2015

India, don't let down your nuclear whistle blowers. They are being harassed and tortured for speaking out the truth

India, don't let down your nuclear whistle blowers. 
They are being harassed and tortured for speaking out the truth

Kramer v/s Kramer won most of the Oscar awards in 1980 – it was an epic  fight between two Kramers. 

Robert Ludlum has written chillingly real page turners about the manner in which governments work and manipulate at the highest levels. 

John Grisham has written equally high voltage thrillers of coutroom battles between ordinary people fighting  against the might of wealthy corporates and their lawyers.

India is seeing some such epibattles – between it’s  own nuclear scientists and their  superiors in high places.

The news of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) trying to brush off reports of scientists from the premier Indian nuclear institute – Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) is not just a flash in the pan. It is an alarm bell for all that is wrong with the nuclear establishment in India. 
The report (here) by the New Indian Express dated Aug 16, 2015 clearly lists out what is wrong. It also has details of the people who have been victimized by the DAE – which incidentally falls under the direct purview of the Prime Minister -

The Sunday Standard has reviewed the complaints, including a letter from Dr D N Yadav, a scientist in the Nuclear Recycle Group of BARC, to Modi on February 4. In his letter, Yadav cited harassment cases of at least six scientists, alleging that they were subjected to management pressure and retaliation by seniors. The issue ranges from manipulation in annual performance reports to irregularities in execution and operation of plants. Yadav’s over 100-page note to the PM—that includes separate complaints filed by individual scientists with the Director and Supervisors of BARC—raises serious questions over functioning of the premier nuclear research organisation. The scientists’ representations have sought a thorough probe into BARC’s affairs.”

So far, this could have been classified as some administrative dispute regarding promotions and it could probably have been brushed aside. 
But now, look at the more serious allegations which emerge:

Kant, an IIT BHU graduate who joined BARC in 1983, is known for his expertise in nuclear fuel reprocessing. Kant has alleged that he was mentally tortured for being upright and brilliant in his job. Harassment started when he tried to access the performance report copies through RTI. Kant was transferred to Kalpakkam, prompting him to move Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Mumbai bench, which stayed BARC’s decision. In his appeal, Kant produced Shah’s letter, putting the BARC in the dock. Kant, whose hearing is scheduled for August 21, has claimed that on the pretext of confidentiality, he was not allowed to publish his work, which was subsequently claimed by superiors and favoured colleagues, and his promotions were delayed.

But then, it is not all an administrative affair, there are glaring technical problems plaguing the DAE too:

A scientist has claimed that harassment affected his family life. B N Singh has accused supervisor P K Wattal of carrying on with his tirade against brilliant scientists after availing extensions following his retirement. Singh alleged that Wattal directed the scientists to discharge the effluent to sea with available dilution, which was much higher than the permissible limit. “This action would have led to serious violation of plant technical specifications... if some NGOs come to know through periodical sampling of the sea water... it will be very difficult for BARC to face the consequences late,” Singh wrote, adding that Wattal had procured sub-standard equipment's that has not been used till date.
Singh said he was transferred after exposing the irregularities. What is startling from the complaints and documents sent to the PM is the claims made by BARC scientists that senior officials took the advantage of ‘secrecy’ and ‘sensitive nature of work’ to allegedly harass and deny them their dues.”

And these are NOT the singular allegations against BARC or DAE for that matter. This has been brewing up for many years now in this hallowed and secret world of nuclear energy/weapons world of India. This report shows that as far back as 2010, the DAE had revealed that 197 employees belonging to a number of nuclear establishments and related institutes in India had  committed suicide and 1,733 scientists and employees belonging to these centres have died of illnesses like multiple organ failure, lung cancer, cirrhosis of liver etc, as per a report compiled by Chetan Kothari - a Mumbai-based RTI activist. 

This author himself has frequently been denied information under the Right to Information (RTI Act 2005) regarding nuclear energy plants in India by citing “National security reasons” or that “This department does not fall under the purview of RTI.” 
And all that I had asked for was information about the so-called “peaceful civilian nuclear energy” program!!! That itself shows that there is much more than meets the eye.

There is much more. 
In one of my earlier articles on Independence day a couple of years back, I had spoken about the plight of scientific officer and nuclear engineer R. K. Gupta.  This is his letter he  showed  us:

Homi Bhabha convinced Nehru to invest in Atomic Energy because "it would in future be too cheap even to meter it"....a failed promise as usual....
R.K. Gupta has been left crippled and in a bad shape at an age when the establishment which employed him should have been caring for him. 

R.K. Gupta developed psoriasis,and also got a hip injury while working at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai. He was diligent at work and hence never complained about the working conditions at the Plutonium extraction facility where he served for 35 long years -Silently.  He joined BARC and he retired from it believing in the Homi Bhabha dream of making India into a nuclear super-power.

Yet, today he has many serious health problems; he has written to the government about them, but what is worse is that nobody has even acknowledged his issues. As he says, when he was seriously ill, the officials and hospital authorities manipulated his seriousness of health and he had no recourse to claim any compensations or to go to court for any kind of assistance.

R.K. Gupta worked in the plutonium extraction division with BARC which makes the raw material for the Indian Atomic (nuclear) weapons that are supposed to be a “national pride”. And yet this man has been left practically on the streets by the very organization he worked with for decades!!!

He has been denied benefits accruing to him out of retirement and service for the many decades he served in that hazardous job at the Nuclear Fuel Extraction facility at BARC and now he has been tossed out like a vegetable.”

This rot did not start yesterday. Nor can only Mr Narendra Modi be singled out as responsible for this. It started when Nehru was so enamored with Homi Bhabha’s promises and the three stage nuclear fuel cycle (a till date failed experiment) that he took personal responsibility of the DAE and assured that it was very well funded - even outside the budget. It has remained this way (mostly under Congress rule, but also supported by the BJP when in power) Since the past sixty years it functions with little with no  accountability and remains shrouded in secrecy. 
Everything remains “classified information” under the Official Secrets Act. 
Information on weapons and military affairs may well be classified information, but what has an “Atoms for Peace” like purely civilian nuclear program have anything to do with any official secrets?

But Kant, Gupta et al are not the only ones. 
This story tells a lot about how life becomes hell when one takes on the DAE:
Manoj Mishra was an employee of the Nulear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) based at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Plant (KAPP) in Gujarat, India. On the days and night of 15-16 June 1994, there was heavy rain and the station was flooded.
Workers had to wade through neck deep water to reach the plant. The electricity grid had collapsed and the only way to keep it going was diesel generators. The plant had been shut down, but a lot of radioactive nuclear waste cans floated away and were probably never located (NPCIL has never come out clearly on what actually happened to them.)
Moreover, the outlet gates for the coolant water to escape were not maintained and did not open. Meanwhile, dam gates upstream had been opened due to the excessive rains which resulted in the flooding of the entire KAPS site with the computer and control systems either washed away or completely submerged. There was reportedly 25 feet water in the plant.
It was sheer providence that saved the country from a huge nuclear disaster.
Mishra wrote about this in the newspapers as a vigilant person and alerted people of the dangers there since the district administration had completely failed to address the issue. 

What he did was in good faith and for public good.

What happened after that is shocking.

For this revelation, Mishra was suspended and, after an internal inquiry, removed from service in March 1996. Since then, Mishra fought the nuclear establishment in courts—and kept losing. This process of fighting in the courts took him to the Gujarat High Court, which, in 2007 which dismissed his case. Mishra then appealed to the Supreme Court, and in April 2013, the SC too dismissed his appeal. 
The Honorable Court had this to say
“It will be apposite to notice the growing acceptance of the phenomenon of whistleblower. A whistleblower is a person who raises a concern about the wrongdoing occurring in an organisation or body of people. Usually this person would be from that same organisation. The revealed misconduct may beclassified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations and corruption. Whistleblowers may make their allegations internally (for example, to other people within the accused organisation) or externally (to regulators, law enforcement agencies, to the media or to groups concerned with the issues)… “In our view, a person like the respondent can appropriately be described as a whistleblower for the system who has tried to highlight the malfunctioning of an important institution established for dealing with cases involving revenue of the State and there is no reason to silence such a person by invoking Articles 129 or 215 of the Constitution or the provisions of the Act”

And then adds:
“In our opinion, the aforesaid observations are of no avail to the appellant…the appellant is educated only upto 12th standard. He is neither an engineer, nor an expert on the functioning of the Atomic Energy Plants. Apart from being an insider, the appellant did not fulfill the criteria for being granted the status of a whistle blower. One of the basic requirements of a person being accepted as a whistle blower is that his primary motive for the activity should be in furtherance of public good. In other words, the activity has to be undertaken in public interest, exposing illegal activities of a public organization or authority. The conduct of the appellant, in our opinion, does not fall within the high moral and ethical standard that would be required of a bona fide whistle blower.” 

(Read the whole SC order here – I assure that it is more fascinating than any John Grisham thriller)
All through, it was alleged that Mishra was merely a 12th passed tradesman and a Union Leader at the plant site (He was immensely popular and in fact was the General Secretary of the workers union then)  
So, since when did the educational qualification of a person become a criteria to blow the lid off a scam or something systemically rotten? Or why should a person working for employee benefits be victimized? Is it for acting in public interests?

Do the nuclear whistle blowers deserve to be treated as second class citizens in this country? 
As Senior Counsel for the plaintiff, Advocate Prashant Bhushan said to the Supreme Court in the Manoj Mishra case : “instead of being punished, the appellant ought to have been rewarded for doing his duty as an enlightened citizen of this country.”

Rather, they should be respected and honored with medals on Independence Day. I will await for that day; maybe forever…..