The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

The Kaiga Incident

What happened in Kaiga shouldn’t stay in Kaiga

More than 90 workers of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka were poisoned as a result of their water cooler being contaminated with radioactive tritium.  Nuclear Power Corporation’s investigators suspect foul play, which was also corroborated by AEC chairman, Anil Kakodkar.

As with all forms of exposure to radiation, the effects of tritium exposure include mutation of cells, loss of brain weight and genetic abnormalities in future generations.  It is unclear how often the workers are checked for traces of radiation, but the presence of tritium in the 90 Kaiga APS employees was identified on November 24.

Since 99% of tritium is eliminated from the body within 10 days of ingestion, the actual incident could have occurred any time between mid-November and Nov 24.

As word of the incident got out, Manmohan Singh attempted to allay fears by saying, “I’ve been briefed about it, it is a small matter of contamination and is not linked to any leak”. Yes, a small matter of radioactive heavy water contaminating our drinking water.  That Manmohan Singh acted to appeal for calm is one thing, but to do so in such a  bizarre, over enthusiastically dismissive manner sends a poor message to citizens and to domestic and international observers.

As if on key, the media bailed on covering the incident, leaving us at the mercy of the inane, often contradictory explanations being given by the DAE and the AEC, if and when the AEC felt disposed to provide any information at all.

There is little that we know about the incident — the identities of those exposed, the date of exposure, the amount of radiation recorded, or indeed, if all those exposed to tritium as a result of drinking water from the cooler have been accounted for.

The Deccan Herald ran an article which indicated that APS employed over a 1,000 workers and  5,000 contractors, all of whom had access to both the area that stored the tritium as well as the dispenser.  Sadly, this is the kind of flippancy that has typified our approach to nuclear safety.

This isn’t the first radioactive leek or safety breech at an APS in India, nor will it be the last if this sort of trivialization of the safety of workers and those in the immediate neighborhood persists.  In the Kalpakkam APS alone, there were three major instances of heavy water leeks in 2003, 1999, 1988.

If the Prime Minister is really serious about delivering on his promise of “good governance” after the victory in the general election this past May, he should constitute a review not only of the Kaiga incident but also all aspects of APS operation and management, including safety and handling procedures, physical security, isolation and access control, recruitment and background checks.

The usual dismissive, dubious attestations of the DAE simply won’t do anymore.

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Filed under: Congress I, Energy, India, Nuclear Energy, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

26/11 and India’s response

It’s politics as usual in New Delhi, and no one seems to care

A year has gone by after the carnage in Mumbai that left over 190 people dead and hundreds injured.  In the immediate aftermath of 26/11, articles were written about the gaping holes in India’s internal security preparedness.

Recommendations put forth to the Indian government are all in public domain —  a tougher anti-terrorism law, a separate ministry for internal security, police reform, increasing NSG headcount and footprint, and enhancing India’s covert ops capabilityThe Filter Coffee also presented recommendations in the wake of the 26/11 attacks.

Of the recommendations made, Manmohan Singh’s government chose to make the establishment of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) central to its response to the holes in India’s internal security preparedness.  To be sure, the establishment of the NIA was an important move, because it addressed Centre-State jurisdiction issues that hitherto plagued the CBI.

However, the NIA’s mandate notwithstanding, nothing in public domain indicates any significant activity in the NIA, until 11 months and two weeks after November 26, 2008, when the NIA belatedly sprung into action, based on inputs from the FBI on David Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

In addition, by virtue of design, the NIA mostly addresses post-incident investigation and forensics.  Manmohan Singh’s government articulated little by way of detective and preventive enhancements to India’s internal security preparedness.

The bigger picture that needs to be examined on the first anniversary of 26/11 isn’t necessarily about specific structural and organizational changes, but about the government’s willingness (confidence?) to make public aberrations in its response to the terror attacks and how these can be addressed.

In the year following the World Trade Center attacks in the US, the Bush Administration constituted the 9/11 Commission to examine aspects of US’s response to the attacks as they unfolded, and make recommendations on how the US should proceed, going forward.  The US Department of Homeland Security was born out of these recommendations.

India deserved its 26/11 commission with a limitless mandate to examine our response to the attacks in Mumbai. Key aspects of the events of 26/11 require independent review.

These include incident-specific issues relating to governance and leadership such as  (a) How long it took to notify key stakeholders, such as the Prime Minister, NSA, intelligence services and ministers of Home Affairs and Defense, (b) The time it took for the relevant stakeholders to coordinate and assess the situation, (c) How long it took to authorize deployment of anti-terror units to the scene, and (d) Crisis management — who was coordinating what aspect of India’s responses.

The second aspect of the commission’s review should have entailed structural and organizational changes and enhancements, including those previously discussed.  Sadly, this government does not have the gumption to constitute such a comprehensive review of its responses to the 26/11 attacks.  This isn’t an assailment of the the UPA administration, it is an indictment of India’s petty political environment.

There are critical aspects of the attack that require further analysis — aspects that India is still uncovering, including the roles of Headley and Rana — and questions that no one seems to be able to answer, such as how a bunch of semi-literate people alien to Mumbai, were able to negotiate their way through the city’s conspicuous and inconspicuous landmarks, without local assistance.

This cannot be accomplished by adhocism or through token responses, such as establishing the NIA and deploying the NSG in some cities. One would have thought that the time was ripe for such a bold response, faced as the UPA is, with an ineffectual, embattled Opposition. Sadly, barring a few cosmetic rearrangements, not much has changed in India, and no one, least of all Mumbaikars seem to care.

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Filed under: 26/11, commandos, India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, National Security Advisor, National Security Guard, NIA, Politics, POTA, south mumbai, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Prachanda’s little jaunt

It seems Prachanda wanted little to do with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s first visit to Nepal, choosing instead to hie himself and CPN(M)’s new foreign policy chief, Krishna Bahadur Mahara to Hong Kong.  His contributions to bringing normalcy to the new republic have been largely negligible.  On the occasions where he has made his presence felt, one was left with no doubt that the intent to bring stability in the nation was subservient to the desire to consolidate power and eliminate democratic due process.

However, while Prachanda may not be interested in dialog with India’s bureaucrats, there is dialog between him and Sitaram Yechury.  It’s no surprise then that Prachanda is able to arrive at very innovative election models for Nepal, including a demand for indirect elections of the President by the Parliament, and a unicameral legislature, with no opposition.

Despite the deadlock in Nepal, Sitaram Yechury’s involvement in political reconciliation, at the behest of New Delhi, is a step in wrong direction. The CPI(M) has done precious little in the areas of governance and social and economic upliftment.  They exist to stymie progress and satisfy their own inflated egos.  But once given the opportunity to lead, they fail, rather spectacularly. One only has to look at the state of affairs in West Bengal and Kerala — bastions of CPI(M) rule in India — and gauge the impact of the decades of their rule on their social and economic development.

And Yechury’s protégés behave no different in Nepal.  Prachanda’s response to PM Madhav Nepal’s recently concluded 34-point agreement with India on areas including trade imbalance, infrastructure, development and military aid, was to complain that the PM’s visit was “humiliating” because it lacked adequate press coverage from the Indian media!

To be sure, there are several issues that confront Nepal today — rehabilitation of the PLA within the armed forces, framing a constitutional framework by May 2010, linguistic reconciliation and quelling ethnic unrest in southern Nepal.  Today, the fate of the new republic is precariously perched; the challenges that confront it are significant, but by no means are they as insurmountable as depicted by Indian and international media.

With all its faults, the UML-led government has endured, quite inexplicably, and no one is more shocked about this than Prachanda.  Unhappy about his self-inflicted irrelevance to the policital process (especially given CPN(M)’s popular support), he has wasted no opportunity to try and bring the government down, even threatening a third installment of the Jana Andolan (People’s Movement) to achieve his goals.

If the UML government continues to hold fort, CPN(M)’s disruptive position will inevitably soften, allowing for a possible “face-saving” compromise on core divergent issues confronting the State.  The modalities of the compromise can be effectively worked out if the CPN(M) is convinced of the relative durability of the government and the futility in trying to lead a united front with several individually insignificant, conflicting opposition members. For now, India’s primary focus today should be to assist the government to hold fort.  Political reconciliation will come naturally when the futility of CPN(M)’s shenanigans is effectively demonstrated.

Filed under: Communist Party of India (Marxist), Foreign Policy, India, World, , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)