It will be 50 years on January 24 since Dr Homi J Bhabha died in a plane accident near Mont Blanc. The disaster took place immediately after the ‘father of Indian nuclear programme announced that the country will produce its first nuclear device. Despite the passage of half a century, murmurs still exist around how the scientist was actually killed by America’s CIA which wanted to block India’s nuclear ambitions.
Not much has changed today; quite a few more unexplained deaths have occurred. Last January, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by activist Chetan Kothari that appealed to the Bombay high court to form a special investigating team to look into these deaths. Surely, it can’t be coincidence that most of the people associated with premier nuclear institutes died while working on important projects. What is more appalling is the unwillingness to look into the matter on the part of the Government.
On October 2013, the lifeless bodies of two engineers working on India’s indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant, were found by the railway tracks near Vishakapatnam Naval Yard. KK Josh and Abhish Shivam were poisoned and their bodies were placed on the tracks to make it seem like an accident, but the dead bodies were discovered by a passerby before the train could crush them to pulp. Their mysterious end failed to inspire the Indian Government, yet again, and the defence ministry relegated the matter as ‘routine’ accident.
With India developing as a nuclear power by leaps and bounds, scientists associated with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have become more prone to such devious deaths allegedly designed by the established nuclear powers.
Lokanathan Mahalingam, a nuke scientist who worked with Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka went for a morning walk in 2009, and disappeared. He had access to some of the country’s most sensitive nuclear information. The PIL said, “When nuke physicist Lokanathan Mahalingam’s body turned up in June of 2009, it was palmed off as a suicide and largely ignored by the Indian media.” Has India made serious attempts to locate him? Is it possible that information changed hands by force?
On February 2010, M Iyer, an engineer at BARC, was strangled to death at his residence. The investigating police team tried to cover up the case by terming it as suicide. According to the forensics, in all such unexplained deaths of scientists and engineers involved in the nuclear programme, fingerprints were absent, as were other vital clues that would have assisted the police in identifying the killers, or killer nations. The suicide verdicts were challenged by the deceased’s families, stating that the person showed no signs of remorse or depression that could have forced them to take the extreme step.
We can’t keep crying ‘brain drain’ when we fail to safeguard lives that choose to remain here and serve India. Homi Bhabha’s puzzling case of death must be re-opened. Perhaps, his death anniversary could be the starting date. India owes him much.