What is the case involving the smuggling of uranium in which ATS made two arrests?
Two persons, Jigar Pandya (27) and Abu Tahir (31), were arrested by Maharashtra ATS on Thursday. Both were trying to illegally sell off 7 kg uranium for around Rs 25 crore online when the ATS team sent a dummy customer and got a sample. The sample was sent to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) which, on Wednesday, in its report, said the material sent was natural uranium following which the duo were placed under arrest under the Atomic Energy Act of 1962 for possessing uranium without licence.
What exactly is uranium and what are its uses?
Uranium occurs naturally in low concentrations in soil, rock and water and is commercially extracted from uranium-bearing minerals. Uranium that has a silvery grey metallic appearance is mainly used in nuclear power plants due to its unique nuclear properties. Depleted uranium is also used as shield against radiation in medical processes using radiation therapy and also while transporting radioactive materials. Though itself radioactive, uranium’s high density makes it effective in halting radiation. Its high density also makes it useful as counterweights in aircraft and industrial machinery.
In this particular incident, where did the duo procure the uranium from?
Tahir’s father owns a scrap shop in Mankhurd. It is suspected that nearly two years ago, a truck with factory refuse had been sold to them. It also contained uranium that was heavy and looked different than the usual industrial waste. Tahir then stored it and spoke about it with Pandya during the ongoing lockdown. Pandya is believed to have used his contacts to confirm that the material was uranium and commanded a high value in the grey market. As they were trying to sell the 7kg uranium online for Rs 25 crores online, the ATS found out about it. While initially the ATS thought it was a case of fraud, it was after the BARC report it was confirmed the material was actually uranium.
Have there been cases in the past where arrests in such cases have been made?
The Thane police in 2016 had arrested two persons with 8 kg Depleted Uranium (DU) worth around Rs 24 crore. In that case too, one of the arrested accused was a scrap dealer. Former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar said factories using uranium as a counterweight in their machines are mandated to contact the Atomic Energy agencies and return the uranium to them. They, however, resort to shortcuts and sell the entire machines along with uranium in scrap.
Should the seizure of some 2.5 kilogrammes of unprocessed uranium from four Nepalese nationals and the arrest of Nepalese nationals in Kathmandu ring alarm internationally? Of course.
Why? Because India is a major beneficiary of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) as well as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency and by implication must have strict surveillance system over radio-active materials.
Alarm is called for also because one of the arrested persons claimed that her father-in-law had “brought the material from India some 20 years ago”, where he worked in a uranium mine.
Imagine the kind of noise that Indian and western media would have raised had some one arrested elsewhere linked the radioactive materials with Pakistan!
Fortunately , not a single incident in Pakistan but quite a few as far as India is concerned.
* In November 1994, Meghalaya Police seized 2.5 kg of uranium from a gang of four smugglers in the Domiasiat region.
* In June 1998 Police in the Indian state of West Bengal, arrested an opposition politician who they say was carrying more than 100 kilograms of uranium.
* In July 1998, the CBI unearthed a major racket in theft of uranium in Tamil Nadu, with the seizure of over eight kg of the nuclear material. In August 2001, Police in the Indian state of West Bengal arrested two men with more than 200 grams of semi-processed uranium.
* In 2003, Indian security forces caught members of a jihad group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, in a village on the Bangladesh border with 225 grams of milled uranium. The Indian authorities initially claimed it was from Kazakstan but concluded later it was more likely from a uranium mining complex at Jadugoda, in eastern India.
* In December 2006, a container packed with radioactive material was stolen from a fortified research facility in eastern India.
* In 2008, another criminal gang was caught attempting to smuggle low-grade uranium, capable of being used in a primitive radiation-dispersal device, from one of India’s state-owned mines across the border to Nepal.
* The same year another group was caught moving an illicit stock of uranium over the border to Bangladesh, the gang having been assisted by
* In 2009, a nuclear reactor employee in southwest India deliberately poisoned dozens of his colleagues with a radioactive isotope, taking advantage of numerous gaps in plant security, according to an internal government report seen by the Center.
* In 2013, leftist guerillas in northeast India illegally obtained uranium ore from a government-run milling complex in northeast India and strapped it to high explosives to make a crude bomb before being caught by police, according to an inspector involved in the case.
* In December 2015, the Centre for Public Integrity had reported an incident at the residential complex adjacent to the Madras Atomic Power Station, to draw global attention to the security hazards and breaches around the Indian nuclear establishments; the incident involved Head Constable Vijay Singh who used official weapons to kill three fellow officers.
The Centre had reported that the paramilitary Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) with nearly 95,000 personnel under civilian rather than military control is supposed to keep all these nuclear materials from leaking from India’s plants but “is short-staffed, ill-equipped, and inadequately trained, according to a confidential, draft, Home Ministry report about the force’s future, dated November 2013, seen by the Center for Public Integrity.
* In December 2016, around 9 kg of radioactive uraniumwas seized from two persons in Thane
* As recently as in early 2018 a uranium smuggling racket was busted by the Kolkata police with one kilogramme of radioactive material. The smugglers were reportedly trying to sell uranium worth about $440,000.
“Although experts say they regard the issue as urgent, Washington is not pressing India for quick reforms. The Obama administration is instead trying to avoid any dispute that might interrupt a planned expansion of U.S. military sales to Delhi, several senior U.S. officials said in interviews,” the Centre for Public Integrity had explained in the December 17, 2015 report – underlining the duplicity of the Obama administration in dealing with India and Pakistan.
These incidents simply expose India’s patchy safety and security record and raise questions on the security measures around its nuclear facilities, which at the moment are in the control of a nationalist-religious extremist government dreaming of a Greater India.
Don’t these instances demonstrate that the country has yet to go a long way to become a responsible nuclear power and made member of NSG?
Although natural Uranium is not useful for even making dirty bombs but the issue does merit a closer and honest scrutiny by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) which has been so favourable to India because of the American patronage.
Pakistan has done the right thing by demanding a thorough investigation of the matter as to how such sizeable quantity of uranium could become available outside any state control and identify the gaps which made this possible.
Most of the Indian and like-minded western official and media channels have been routinely blurting out insinuations on Pakistan and the “possibility” of its nuclear weapons falling in hands of so-called jihadists (only a miniscule number for a 220 million population) but here in this case
The world should also be cautious against being duped – yet again – by India through political, intellectual and media. Together with the US, New Delhi possesses a huge information machinery – including of course the network of over 550 news agencies and web portals unearthed by the EU Disinfolab in December last year – which it can use to obfuscate reality and the double standards that its western allies deploy when dealing with countries such as Pakistan and China.
This indeed represents a big challenge to Pakistan and others to convince the US-led western allies of India that the country under Modi’s BJP has yet to establish the credentials of the nuclear security regime. It is not what they have all been singing on India for decades i.e. unqualified support for New Delhi’s narrative on nuclear and other critical issues.