Are information commissioners killing the RTI Act?


 

VINITA DESHMUKH | 09/01/2013 Moneylife 

Information commissions are increasingly being lenient in penalising Public Information Officers (PIOs) for not providing information that they should, or being absent at hearings at the information commission. If so, are the information commissioners making PIOs and Appellate Authorities unaccountable?

Pune-based RTI (Right to Information) activist Vijay Kumbhar has triggered off a controversy through his column in the Marathi daily Pudhari that despite information commissioners being empowered to penalise Public Information Officers (PIOs), they do not do so even if they do not provide information to the applicant or remain absent for hearing at the information commission. Kumbhar states, “information commissioners are responsible for the worrying trend of government employees not being serious about the RTI anymore as they are often not held accountable.”

 

He cites two recent decisions of State Information Commissioners in Maharashtra on New Year’s Day, as examples. In the first decision, the applicant who had filed a RTI in July 2011 did not get the required reply and the First Appellate Authority (FAA) did not bother to conduct any hearing. This compelled the applicant to file second appeal with the information commission.

 

However, when the matter was heard at the state information commission, the commissioner merely ordered that information be given within a specific period by the PIO but he did not levy any penalty on the PIO or question the absence of both the PIO and FAA. Says Kumbhar, “in this case, the PIO or FAA did not bother about the RTIapplication or appeal filed before them. They even did not have the courtesy to attend the hearing of an appeal before the information commission. But the Commission in its order has not dealt with some basic questions like, what was the information the applicant had sought for? What were the reasons behind not furnishing the information by the PIO? Why didn’t the appellate authority conduct hearing on the first appeal? Why was the PIO and the appellate authority not present for the hearing before the information commission?” The least the information commissioner could have done, says Kumbhar is to issue a show-cause notice as to why they remained absent.

 

In the second case, says Kumbhar, the applicant did not receive the information that he had asked for from the PIO but the FAA dismissed his appeal by stating that the required information was provided to him by the PIO and that too,10 months after the applicant had filed his first appeal. During the second appeal hearing, the information commissioner did not go into details as to what information was asked for by the applicant? In such a case, the information commissioner has the power to impose fine on the PIO and reprimand the FAA for conducting the hearing after 10 long months but they were not pulled up. If the information commissioners are so lenient, then why should PIOs bother about applications they receive under RTI?

 

So, are information commissioners advertently or inadvertently killing the power of the RTI Act? Moneylife asked a cross-section of RTI activists:

 

RTI activist Maj Gen SCN Jatar (retd)

Information Commissioners cannot afford to be lax:  Kumbhar’s observations set out in reality how RTI commissioners are set to kill RTI. They do not realise that such decisions are taken as examples of superficiality and laxity in penalising errant PIOs. PIOs are apt to then follow the same methods again and again. The basic criteria that should govern good judgments are a) They should be well-reasoned so that these can be cited in future judgments and ii) they should give a clear message to the errant PIOs that avoiding or evading giving information, which should be in public domain, will not be tolerated. The two cases quoted by Kumbhar do not meet both the above criteria.

 

Former Central Information Commissioner and RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi

Faster disposal of cases and reasonable threat of penalty required:  Most Information Commissioners use the penalty provision as if it was a death penalty to be imposed in the rarest of cases. I do not see any problem with who attends the hearing. The Commissioners should give orders for information irrespective of whether the PIO attends or not. The hearing is an opportunity to present one’s views or argue on required matters. If the appellant or PIO does not attend, they may not want the opportunity of hearing. To believe that when either side is not present, a Commissioner must rule in favour of one who is present does not appear correct or desirable.

 

I had levied 521 penalties totalling Rs.92 lakh in the 20,400 cases which I decided in three years and nine months.  The rest of the Central Information Commissioners collectively imposed penalties in about 330 cases in the Commission and had decided about 80,000 cases. There is no doubt that there is a link of penalty imposition with compliance of the law. If cases are decided fast, and there is a fear of penalties, the PIOs and First appellate authorities become more alert and try to meet the requirements of the law. The total cases received by the Central Commission rose by about 50% in a two year period from 2009 to 2011. The cases for Municipal Corporation of Delhi—which I handled throughout my tenure rose by only 15%. This indicates that faster disposal and a reasonable threat of penalties would get better compliance of the law.

 

RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal

Each order of Information commission should be comprehensive: It is usually observed that generally penalties are not imposed by Information Commissioners thereby making Public Information Officers (PIOs) lethargic towards complying with provisions of the RTI Act. There should be a practice whereby each order of Information Commissions may carry all the relevant dates like filing a RTI petition, reply of PIO, filing first appeal and of appeal-order. There should be auto-calculation of penalty in each verdict of Information Commissions making penal-provisions under Section 20 of the RTI Act mandatory rather than discretionary as at present. Reasons for waiving or reducing applicable penalty should be specifically mentioned in verdicts of Information Commissions. Information Commissions should maintain record of penalties imposed. Non-payment of penalties in specified time should be reported once in a month to Cabinet Secretary/Chief Secretary who should be duty-bound to initiate disciplinary action against defaulting officers apart from taking steps to recover penalty-amounts from salary/pension payable.

 

RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd)

Applicants should be innovative, interactive with PIOs:  Every applicant must realise that it is only after the RTI Act that citizens have become participative in governance. RTI has given us a chance to be an integral part of public accountability so we should not take an adverse stance against PIOs as far as possible. Every RTI applicant should make untiring efforts not to take the case up to the Information commission level as he or she would face inordinate delays, even up to two years. I use innovative methods to interact with the PIOs to extract information in case they hesitate to provide it. Today, I have developed good relations with many public authorities and they sometimes call me for suggestions or advice. Also, after the 2G scam it has been observed that every single reply under RTI at least in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) goes to the top bureaucrat so what is the use of blaming or penalising PIOs who are at the mercy of their bosses? Also, in the information commissions, it is the bureaucrats who create more hurdles than the information commissioners themselves.

 

Researcher and RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak

Public Authorities should take implementation of RTI Act seriously: I agree that to make government employees take RTI seriously PIOs should be penalised but that is just one of the solutions. Penalty cannot be the only deterrent as much as vigilance by higher authorities can be. It is the responsibility of public authorities to clearly push for policy of transparency and that should be visible in action and not by merely issuing paper orders. Serious implementation of RTI cannot be only a PIO’s headache. The top brass of every public authority should regularly monitor and be vigilant about transparency. Mechanisms to check it should work efficiently and should be given top priority. Targets should be set for accountability. Every office has a Monthly Monitoring Report (MMR). It is also called the Monthly Progressive Implementation Calendar in Karnataka. It requires reporting physical and financial progress to superiors who in turn give guidance on the basis of the report. There should also be scrutiny at the highest level, which is legislature. Such professional monitoring has not been seen for RTI. It is only when the government employees know that someone is seriously watching over them, that everyone down the line will take RTI seriously. Perhaps some incentives like increased funding or an award to the Public Authority which implements RTI diligently could help.

 

Al Jazeera: Report says EU nuclear reactors need $ 32 BILLION to prevent disaster!


 

Report says EU nuclear reactors need repair

A leaked report on Europe’s nuclear reactors found that up to $32bn needs to be invested to prevent disaster.
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2012 09:23

Almost all of Europe’s nuclear reactors are in need of an urgent overhaul that could cost as much as $32bn, according to a leaked draft-report by the European Commission.

The Commission is expected on Thursday to finalise its stress test report, which was designed to ensure that a disaster similar to the one at Japan‘s Fukushima could not happen again.

The report will be debated by EU ministers later this month..

After that, the Commission intends in 2013 to propose new laws, including on insurance and liability to “improve the situation of potential victims in the event of a nuclear accident”, the draft obtained by Reuters news agency said.

Of the 134 EU nuclear reactors grouped across 68 sites, 111 have more than 100,000 inhabitants living within 30 km.

Safety regimes vary greatly and the amount that needs to be spent to improve them is estimated at $13-32bn across all the reactors, the draft says.

France‘s nuclear watchdog has already said the country, which relies on nuclear power for about 75 per cent of its electricity, needs to invest billions of euros.

The lesson of Fukushima was that two natural disasters could strike at the same time and knock out the electrical supply system of a plant completely, so it could not be cooled down.

The stress tests found that four reactors, in two different countries, had less than one hour available to restore safety functions if electrical power was lost.

By contrast, four countries operate additional safety systems fully independent from the normal safety measures and
located in areas well-protected against external events. A fifth country is considering that option.

The main finding, the draft says, is that there are “continuing differences” between member states’ safety regimes.

It also says provisions to ensure the independence of national regulators are “minimal”.

Imad Khadduri, a nuclear analyst, told Al Jazeera that this report reflects “what is now an issue in Japan, which is the complacency of the nuclear industry, and the following up with modifications and updates on safety issues.”

“European power reactors should take much more strident efforts in fixing and implementing the safety issues.

Khadduri went on to say that if the public “is going to be alarmed by the $30bn cost of it all, they should be more worried about how much it could cost to decommission reactors, which is incredibly costly.”

Voluntary exercises

The stress tests are a voluntary exercise to establish whether nuclear plants can withstand natural disasters, aircraft crashes and management failures, as well as whether adequate systems are in place to deal with power disruptions.

All 14 member states that operate nuclear plants took part, however, as did Lithuania, which is decommissioning its nuclear units.

From outside the 27-member bloc, Switzerland and Ukraine joined in the exercise.

The tests were meant to have been completed around the middle of the year, but countries were given extra time to assess more reactors.

Non-governmental organisations are among those who have criticised the process as not going far enough and having no powers to force the shut-down of a nuclear plant.

“The stress tests only give a limited view,” said Roger Spautz, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, which believes nuclear power should be phased out.

He cited independent research earlier this year which said some European reactors needed to be shut down immediately, as well as the example of Belgium, where the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors have been halted because of suspected cracks.

The draft report says the stress tests are not a one-off exercise and will be followed up. Existing legislation also needs to be enforced, it said.

The deadline for passing the existing nuclear safety directive into national law was July 2011. The Commission started infringement proceedings against 12 member states that missed it.

To date, two have still not complied but the report did not specified which ones.

The Commission does not comment on leaked drafts.

But on Monday, the EU energy spokeswoman said the recommendations were being finalised and would not be “very,
very detailed”.

In France, the nuclear watchdog and operator EDF said they would not comment before seeing the official report.

 

 

Leak reveals EU’s plans for Large-Scale Surveillance of Communications


21 September, 2012

»

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: CleanIT – Pläne zur Überwachung des Internets im großen Stil 

A leaked document from the CleanIT project shows just how far internal discussions in that initiative have drifted away from its publicly stated aims, as well as the most fundamental legal rules that underpin European democracy and the rule of law.

The European Commission-funded CleanIT project claims that it wants to fight terrorism through voluntary self-regulatory measures that defends the rule of law.

The initial meetings of the initiative, with their directionless and ill-informed discussions about doing “something” to solve unidentified online “terrorist” problems were mainly attended by filtering companies, who saw an interesting business opportunity. Their work has paid off, with numerous proposals for filtering by companies and governments, proposals for liability in case sufficiently intrusive filtering is not used, and calls for increased funding by governments of new filtering technologies.

The leaked document contradicts a letter sent from CleanIT Coordinator But Klaasen to Dutch NGO Bits of Freedom in April of this year, which explained that the project would first identify problems before making policy proposals. The promise to defend the rule of law has been abandoned. There appears never to have been a plan to identify a specific problem to be solved – instead the initiative has become little more than a protection racket (use filtering or be held liable for terrorist offences) for the online security industry.

The proposals urge Internet companies to ban unwelcome activity through their terms of service, but advise that these “should not be very detailed”. This already widespread approach results, for example, in Microsoft (as a wholly typical example of current industry practice) having terms of service that would ban pictures of the always trouserless Donald Duck as potential pornography (“depicts nudity of any sort … in non-human forms such as cartoons”). The leaked paper also contradicts the assertion in the letter that the project “does not aim to restrict behaviour that is not forbidden by law” – the whole point of prohibiting content in terms of service that is theoretically prohibited by law, is to permit extra-judicial vigilantism by private companies, otherwise the democratically justified law would be enough. Worse, the only way for a company to be sure of banning everything that is banned by law, is to use terms that are more broad, less well defined and less predictable than real law.

Moving still further into the realm of the absurd, the leaked document proposes the use of terms of service to remove content “which is fully legal”… although this is up to the “ethical or business” priorities of the company in question what they remove. In other words, if Donald Duck is displeasing to the police, they would welcome, but don’t explicitly demand, ISPs banning his behaviour in their terms of service. Cooperative ISPs would then be rewarded by being prioritised in state-funded calls for tender.

CleanIT (terrorism), financed by DG Home Affairs of the European Commission is duplicating much of the work of the CEO Coalition (child protection), which is financed by DG Communications Networks of the European Commission. Both are, independently and without coordination, developing policies on issues such as reporting buttons and flagging of possibly illegal material. Both CleanIT and the CEO Coalition are duplicating each other’s work on creating “voluntary” rules for notification and removal of possibly illegal content and are jointly duplicating the evidence-based policy work being done by DG Internal Market of the European Commission, which recently completed a consultation on this subject. Both have also been discussing upload filtering, to monitor all content being put online by European citizens.

CleanIT wants binding engagements from internet companies to carry out surveillance, to block and to filter (albeit only at “end user” – meaning local network – level). It wants a network of trusted online informants and, contrary to everything that they have ever said, they also want new, stricter legislation from Member States.

Unsurprisingly, in EDRi‘s discussions with both law enforcement agencies and industry about CleanIT, the word that appears with most frequency is “incompetence”.

The document linked below is distributed to participants on a “need to know” basis – we are sharing the document because citizens need to know what is being proposed.

Key measures being proposed:

  • Removal of any legislation preventing filtering/surveillance of employees’ Internet connections
  • Law enforcement authorities should be able to have content removed “without following the more labour-intensive and formal procedures for ‘notice and action’”
  • “Knowingly” providing links to “terrorist content” (the draft does not refer to content which has been ruled to be illegal by a court, but undefined “terrorist content” in general) will be an offence “just like” the terrorist
  • Legal underpinning of “real name” rules to prevent anonymous use of online services
  • ISPs to be held liable for not making “reasonable” efforts to use technological surveillance to identify (undefined) “terrorist” use of the Internet
  • Companies providing end-user filtering systems and their customers should be liable for failing to report “illegal” activity identified by the filter
  • Customers should also be held liable for “knowingly” sending a report of content which is not illegal
  • Governments should use the helpfulness of ISPs as a criterion for awarding public contracts
  • The proposal on blocking lists contradict each other, on the one hand providing comprehensive details for each piece of illegal content and judicial references, but then saying that the owner can appeal (although if there was already a judicial ruling, the legal process would already have been at an end) and that filtering such be based on the “output” of the proposed content regulation body, the “European Advisory Foundation”
  • Blocking or “warning” systems should be implemented by social media platforms – somehow it will be both illegal to provide (undefined) “Internet services” to “terrorist persons” and legal to knowingly provide access to illegal content, while “warning” the end-user that they are accessing illegal content
  • The anonymity of individuals reporting (possibly) illegal content must be preserved… yet their IP address must be logged to permit them to be prosecuted if it is suspected that they are reporting legal content deliberately and to permit reliable informants’ reports to be processed more quickly
  • Companies should implement upload filters to monitor uploaded content to make sure that content that is removed – or content that is similar to what is removed – is not re-uploaded
  • It proposes that content should not be removed in all cases but “blocked” (i.e. make inaccessible by the hosting provider – not “blocked” in the access provider sense) and, in other cases, left available online but with the domain name removed.

Leaked document: http://www.edri.org/files/cleanIT_sept2012.pdf

CleanIT Project website: http://www.cleanitproject.eu/

Microsoft “code of conduct”: http://windows.microsoft.com/is-IS/windows-live/code-of-conduct

CleanIT’s letter to Bits of Freedom about “factual inaccuracies” and their unfulfilled promise to produce a problem definition: http://95.211.138.23/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/20120106-Reaction-blog…

EDRigram article 29 August: http://edri.org/edrigram/number10.16/cleanit-safer-internet-for-terror…

EDRigram article 20 June: http://edri.org/edrigram/number10.12/the-rise-of-the-european-upload-f…

These bills are long unpaid


To predict disaster, to invoke treachery
and malice, to spin tales of rotten
luck to make it not happen:
it doesn’t work.

The wind is still rising with hail
in its teeth. The waves are piling up
then spilling back way, way baring
bottom you’ve never seen.

There’s ashes in the wind, darling,
a taste of ashes in our food
ashes on our lips in bed
eyes blinded with ash.

There’s a mortgage on my spine
I cannot pay. Somebody has
bought my teeth and wants them
out tomorrow for dice.

There are real monsters under
the bed, hungry for blood. They own
the land this house stands on
to stripmine for coal.

Santa isn’t coming. The bounty
hunter is. There’s a lien on your
ass and the bank is itchy to fore
close your future.

If you’re going to stand get up.
If you’re going to fight, get moving.
Nothing comes to those who wait
but hunger’s claws digging into the soft belly.

If you value your blood, fight to keep
it in your veins. You have nothing
to lose but your life and it was sold to them decades
ago by your parents’ parents.
Their greed is endless.

Your patience shouldn’t be.

By Marge Piercy

The Asbestos Shame in India #enviornment


By Rohit roy,  kindlemag.in

A slow and painful death is creeping through the nation. Asbestos – the essential roofing of the poor – is a silent and deadly killer. It causes lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis through a slow filling of the lungs with asbestos dust, leading to a painful existence and eventual death. The WHO estimates that more than 100,000 people die each year of asbestos related diseases. Yet, walk around any village or town (or even our cities) and an elevated view will reveal a sea of corrugated asbestos sheeting.

  The most vulnerable are those working in factories handling asbestos, but it also affects people using asbestos in their homes as a cheap substitute for roofing materials. In most cases this is a common demographic. The poor need asbestos and the poor work with asbestos. The poor are also silent sufferers.

The deadly nature of asbestos is common knowledge in the developed world. Several nations have completely banned the use of the material, most notably of the EU, Japan and Australia. In the late 90s, the European Commission and Canada even had a standoff at the WTO regarding France’s ban on asbestos products.

Weirdly, Canada is another country where the use of asbestos is banned. The Canadian government has spent vast amounts of money to remove the material from its environment. Yet, in the international trade of asbestos, the hypocrisy of the Canadian government is absolutely criminal. Canada is one of the world’s larger exporters of this deadly material and its clientele consists mostly of developing nations like India. It would seem that, to the Canadian government, consideration for human life is limited only to its own people, and international responsibility is but a farcical concept.

Yet, why blame a foreign government that is looking out for its businesses when our government is shockingly apathetic to the welfare of its own people? One of the excuses, used by Canada, to justify asbestos export is that it is legal in India. One, then, wonders why a material, which is so comprehensively vilified in international markets, is still allowed to flourish in such alarming quantities and with so little regulation, in a country where income differences and an uncontrollable population, increases the associated risks manifold.

Very few people in India are aware of the dangers stemming from asbestos use. Asbestos regulation is, at best, pretence. Factories are under-regulated and health and safety norms are hardly implemented, regularly flouted or at times even non-existent. Stories have emerged of abandoned open mines seriously affecting the population of surrounding villages. Rural doctors are so ill-informed about the effects of asbestos that villagers are very often misdiagnosed. Even in cities, factory workers and families have alarming experiences of deteriorating health conditions and death.

Why is the government not doing anything? Has it now come to the point where even a full blown catastrophe cannot motivate it to take action? Is this again a case of government incompetence that we Indians are so used to, or is there a more sinister reason behind the silence and ignorance? Mining lobbies and the mining mafia come to mind. Given the recent incidents concerning the mining mafia in the country, it is not a big leap of imagination, to think there is big money being made at the expense of the expendable poor.

The proliferation of asbestos use is not just an environmental hazard. It is also nothing short of a human rights violation. To knowingly allow the use of a material, that regularly kills millions, is criminal negligence. To allow our country to be used as a dumping ground for such materials, by other nations, is shameful. But most importantly, to watch our people die of a preventable cause and do nothing about it is a heinous crime worthy of comparisons to the Holocaust.

Don’t Let Your Governments Trade Away Our Lives


In an open letter to the citizens of Europe, the Chairperson of South Africa’s world famous Treatment Action Campaign appeals for collective action to stop European leaders pursuing harmful intellectual property provisions in the EU-India free trade agreement. India supplies 80% of the HIV medicines used in developing countries – the free trade agreement threatens this live saving supply.

An Open Letter to the Citizens of Europe

from Nonkosi Khumalo, Chairperson, Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa

Dear Citizens of Europe:

We are writing to you as people living with HIV/AIDS, who rely on access to affordable medicines to stay alive. We are writing to you because your governments are pushing to limit our access to medicines through a Free Trade Agreement the EU is negotiating with India, which is the world’s largest producer of affordable generic medicines. This week, as the EU and India meet for a summit in Delhi, our lives hang in the balance as the two sides make trade-offs to come to an agreement. Don’t let your governments trade away our lives.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) was launched in South Africa in 1998 at a time when people across Africa were dying from AIDS because they couldn’t afford the high price of life-saving antiretroviral medicines. Over the past decade, TAC has campaigned with our international partners for affordable access to these medicines – seeing a nearly 99% drop in the price of a standard triple drug combination, from roughly 9,000 EUR per patient per year in 2000 to below 115 EUR per patient per year today. These prices came down primarily because of market competition among generic drug producers in India. Yet the battle for medicines access is not over, and many medicines, including cancer drugs and newer HIV medicines that people need after time, remain inaccessible to people in the developing world because of their high price.

We implore you, as citizens of the European Union, to stand with us against policies that are being pursued by your governments through the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that will block our access to affordable medicines – putting our health and lives at risk. The agreement is being negotiated in secret, without opportunity for input by the citizens of EU member states and India. The EU has threatened to back out of the negotiations if the FTA is not signed by February – an attempt to force India to accept many of the harmful provisions the EU demands.

Ensuring that access to HIV medicines is protected is crucial to save lives and also reduce transmission of the virus. Last year, a landmark clinical trial showed that HIV treatment reduces by 96% the risk that the virus will be passed on. It is imperative that medicines remain available and affordable so that we can begin to turn the epidemic around.

India is often called the ‘pharmacy of the developing world.’ A study found that between 2003 and 2008, India supplied more than 80% of the HIV medicines used for the treatment of people living with HIV in developing countries. Beyond HIV, India is a vital supplier of affordable generic medicines to treat many other diseases.

But all this could change if the EU continues to pressure India to agree to more stringent intellectual property protection than that required by international trade rules. The United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and UNITAID have all warned against the adoption of these stringent measures that exceed India’s obligations. The adverse impact these excessive intellectual property provisions have on access to medicines is well documented.

The harmful measures pushed by the EU include: so-called ‘data exclusivity’ that will delay the registration of generic medicines; investment rules that will allow multinational companies to sue the Indian government for implementing pro-health policies, and intellectual property enforcement measures that will, for example, block legitimate medicines from leaving India on their way to patients in other developing countries. The EU’s own experiment in increasing the enforcement of intellectual property has already had harmful consequences on access to medicines, with generic HIV medicines made in India being detained by European Customs officials on their way to Africa on allegations of intellectual property violation. The very real consequence of these seizures is stock-outs of medicines in clinics in poor countries and the interruption of life-saving treatment. The EU is now trying to legitimize these measures through trade agreements.

The European Parliament itself has recognised the role of India in supplying medicines to the developing world and understands the policies the European Commission (EC) is pushing through the FTA will have “a detrimental impact … on the availability of generic medicines.” Since the FTA negotiations started in 2007, health and public interest groups have repeatedly written to the European Commission asking them to remove these harmful demands. Across Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe, people living with HIV have taken to the streets demanding that the EC withdraw its demands. Yet the EC persists.

As people living in developing countries, we are deeply dismayed that EU governments are pushing policies that prioritize profits of the already extremely profitable pharmaceutical industry at the expense of our lives.

For the first time in the history of the epidemic, we can now talk about reversing HIV/AIDS. We now know that HIV treatment itself—which TAC and countless other groups across the developing world have fought for over the past decade—holds the key to stopping infections. As citizens of the EU, we ask you to stand with us in solidarity by calling on your leaders not to pursue harmful intellectual property provisions in the FTA that will take this treatment out of our hands.

We ask you to stand up for our lives.

Nonkosi Khumalo, Chairperson, Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa

DNA investigations: Deaths confirm cancer risk near N-reactors


Saturday, Jan 14, 2012, By Gangadhar S Patil | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

After being in denial for years, the department of atomic energy (DAE) has for the first time admitted that the deaths of its employees at the Kalpakkam nuclear site and their dependents were because of multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone marrow cancer linked to nuclear radiation.

In response to a Right to Information (RTI) query in October last year, the DAE said nine people, including three employees working at the Kalpakkam atomic reactor, about 70km from Chennai, died of multiple myeloma and bone cancer between 1995 and 2011. The department had earlier refused to divulge information despite an RTI query in 2010.

The risk to the lives of people working at the nuclear facilities at Kalpakkam came to the fore in 2003 when two of its employees — Mohandas and Ponniah — working at the reactor died of multiple myeloma after being exposed to nuclear radiation. DAE officials then denied that the deaths were because of overexposure to radiation.

While two people were detected with multiple myeloma when they were working at the reactor, another was found to have the rare form of bone marrow cancer after retirement. The RTI query revealed that 14 people, including 11 family members of employees at Kalpakkam nuclear facilities, have been detected with multiple myeloma and bone cancer between 1995 and 2011.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) officials, however, claim that there have been no deaths due to exposure to radiation at Kalpakkam. They even said the figure of people affected by radiation at the nuclear facilities was lesser than the national average of 1-4 per 1 lakh people.

“The figure of three employees at Kalpakkam having multiple myeloma during 16-17 years is not higher than the normal prevalence of such form of cancer among others, in India or abroad,” BARC said in its response.

Experts, however, said it was a faulty comparison and that it was not possible to compare such sensitive data to the national average. As per international standards, cancer cases because of radiation are computed by comparing people living in proximate villages to those living in villages far away from the nuclear facilities, said Dr V Pugazhenthi, a physician who has been practising in Kalpakkam for 20 years.

Going by international standards, a DAE-funded study by Dr Manjula Datta shows that the number of people in proximity to Kalpakkam nuclear facilities suffering from cancer is a cause of concern. DNA is in possession of the report that was never made public.

The report states that cancer cases in villages close to Kalpakkam are seven times higher (210 per 1 lakh people) compared to just (30 per 1 lakh people) in distant villages. Morbidity levels in areas near the nuclear reactor are 2-3 times higher than normal. The study covered 22 proximate villages (within 8km radius) and three distant villages (50km from the reactor site).

“Several cases of cancer due to nuclear radiation have come up in the vicinity of the Kalpakkam nuclear reactor, but they were never reported. Even when they were reported, the government refused to acknowledge them,” said VT Padmanabhan a researcher in health effects of radiation and member of the European Commission on Radiation Risk.

“Dr Datta’s report is one of the best independent surveys carried out to date. Going by its data, it is clear that radiation causes cancer.”

Data sought from the DAE under a separate RTI reveals as many as 244 Kalpakkam employees and their dependents were detected with various types of cancer between 1999 and 2009. Most people affected were in the 41-60 age group and included men as well as women. During 2000-2010, 19 cases of thyroid diseases were detected. Experts said thyroid diseases are common among people living in and around nuclear reactor sites.

BARC officials, however, said the 244 cancer cases and mortality rates among Kalpakkam employees were not different from those seen among the general population.

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd officials did not respond to questions mailed by DNA to their official ids despite several reminders.

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