As the world is transfixed by the impending horrors of nuclear plants or materials falling into terrorist hands in Pakistan, the situation in India is no different. A joint study conducted by British and Indian experts suggest there is clear danger from chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) materials falling into wrong hands within India’s borders.
While releasing the report prepared jointly by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF), former Union home secretary GK Pillai said the government woke up to CBR threats after discovering disappearance of 14,000 tonnes of chemicals in Madhya Pradesh three years ago.
Declaring that transportation of such materials is still an issue in India, he expressed apprehension that the bulk of the stolen chemicals may have gone into making explosives by Maoists and contractors engaged in illegal mining.
After the Union home ministry decided to declare ammonium nitrate an explosive chemical as terrorists increasingly started using it in making bombs, it was found that a British era rule has vested this authority with the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP). The department subsequently agreed to take up the responsibility and include the chemical in the family of explosives.
While the Mayapuri incident in Delhi, where Cobalt 60 was found in a scrap deal shop attracted much media attention, several other incidents have gone unnoticed.
Besides, 90 employees of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka were affected by Tritium, when it got mixed with drinking water in 2009. “These incidents show while elaborate security structures have been put in place to prevent radioactive material falling into the hands of malicious actors, thus far it has not provided to be completely foolproof,” concludes the study.
The report warned that terrorist organisations may seek to carry out CBR attacks in future by detonating a radiological dispersal device (‘dirty bomb’); by carrying out an armed assault on an industrial facility handling CBR materials or on vehicles transporting material; or by infiltrating facilities to steal CBR materials or to sabotage the site.
Pillai admitted that for the government, CBR threats so far had been of “low priority importance”. Noted strategic expert Dr C Raja Mohan believes that while India is raising WMD-related issues at various international forums, not much work has been done on the domestic aspects of the issue.
The ORF-RUSI study found that site security at facilities and industries handling CBR materials is variable. Large industrial sites, particularly under the protection of the Central Industrial Security Force, are well-protected with robust security and safety arrangements, but this is not mirrored in all medium- and small-scale facilities, some of whom have employed private security agencies that are not adequately trained. The study suggested greater standardisation of site security with well-developed practical plans for implementation.
Since India faces a serious battle against terrorism from Naxals, insurgent and separatist groups such as United Liberation Force of Assam (ULFA), and other international terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, CBR threats needs to be taken care of more seriously, the report said.