NEW DELHI: As India celebrates its 69th year of Independence, several scientists from the country’s premier nuclear research lab Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have alleged harassment and victimisation by their supervisors. They have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his immediate intervention. Modi is the supreme head of the Department of Atomic Energy, which controls nuclear research and development centres, including BARC in Mumbai.
The Sunday Standard has reviewed the complaints, including a letter from Dr D N Yadav, a scientist in the Nuclear Recycle Group of BARC, to Modi on February 4. In his letter, Yadav cited harassment cases of at least six scientists, alleging that they were subjected to management pressure and retaliation by seniors. The issue ranges from manipulation in annual performance reports to irregularities in execution and operation of plants. Yadav’s over 100-page note to the PM—that includes separate complaints filed by individual scientists with the Director and Supervisors of BARC—raises serious questions over functioning of the premier nuclear research organisation. The scientists’ representations have sought a thorough probe into BARC’s affairs.
“Many scientists have reported against severe victimisation and gross irregularities including in assessment of merit in BARC. I am also enclosing representations made by some of the senior scientists to Director BARC and other higher officials, however they also were simply quelled by similar false memoranda so as to protect the involved officials,” Yadav wrote to Modi.
Interesting is the case of scientist Shashi Kant, who was allegedly harassed by senior officials. His immediate supervisor, B V Shah, admitted in a letter dated December 31, 2014, to BARC chief Sekhar Basu that Kant’s performance reports were manipulated on the direction of senior officials.
Kant, an IIT BHU graduate who joined BARC in 1983, is known for his expertise in nuclear fuel reprocessing. Kant has alleged that he was mentally tortured for being upright and brilliant in his job. Harassment started when he tried to access the performance report copies through RTI. Kant was transferred to Kalpakkam, prompting him to move Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Mumbai bench, which stayed BARC’s decision. In his appeal, Kant produced Shah’s letter, putting the BARC in the dock.
“My assessment (of Shashi Kant) was under strong influence of seniors,” wrote Shah in his letter, adding that Kant continued to get low grading (A3) on the insistence of senior officials.
Kant, whose hearing is scheduled for August 21, has claimed that on the pretext of confidentiality, he was not allowed to publish his work, which was subsequently claimed by superiors and favoured colleagues, and his promotions were delayed.
A scientist has claimed that harassment affected his family life. B N Singh has accused supervisor P K Wattal of carrying on with his tirade against brilliant scientists after availing extensions following his retirement. Singh alleged that Wattal directed the scientists to discharge the effluent to sea with available dilution, which was much higher than the permissible limit. “This action would have led to serious violation of plant technical specifications... if some NGOs come to know through periodical sampling of the sea water... it will be very difficult for BARC to face the consequences late,” Singh wrote, adding that Wattal had procured sub-standard equipments that has not been used till date.
Singh said he was transferred after exposing the irregularities. What is startling from the complaints and documents sent to the PM is the claims made by BARC scientists that senior officials took the advantage of ‘secrecy’ and ‘sensitive nature of work’ to allegedly harass and deny them their dues.
Among the documents sent to Modi is a copy of a letter from scientist Ashutosh Acharya, written to Wattal on November 28, 2013, in which he reveals that many scientists’ career was allegedly nuked by Wattal. “Your actions are not only against me but against many others also. Sometime in May or June 2010, P K Narayan, as Head BETDD, had shown me unassessed ACRs for 2007-08 & 2008-09 of Shashi Kant and Narayan had also mentioned that everyone was amazed with his quantum and quality of work output... there are many such facts about him and others,” Acharya’s letter to Wattal, now with the PMO, stated.
There is also a shocking piece of information the PMO was told through the letters that violates Modi’s directives. Wattal, who allegedly harassed the scientists, was given two extensions of two years each after his retirement. Finally in February 2015, he was rewarded with the Raja Ramanna Fellowship for another five years. Modi had directed government departments to avoid extensions and promote young scientists.
BARC, however, denied harassment of its scientists, in its reply to this newspaper’s queries. It said that BARC has over 4,200 scientists and only three have complained, and generalisation of this matter based on three cases is not appropriate. It did not specifically answer whether a committee was formed to look into their complaints.
“The officers who have made the complaints alleging harassment were not able to substantiate the same when requested to do so. Some of the officers, who could not be promoted solely due to their performance being below the required level of grading, are trying to distract attention by making baseless and irrelevant allegations of harassment and victimisation against the management,” BARC said.
It added that allegations levelled by Yadav are baseless and therefore no action was initiated against any senior officer. BARC said Yadav is in the habit of sending grievances and has done so on social media, to BARC’s vigilance section and to the PM.
“His case has been referred to the Department for further course of action. As regards B N Singh, he had made representation for review of APAR grading for the year 2012-13. It was examined by the competent authority and the competent authority has upgraded his grading,” BARC said.
Interestingly, this admission makes it clear that Singh’s grading was rectified only after the complaint. BARC refused to comment on this newspaper’s query on scientist Shashi Kant, citing that his case was sub judice. It, however, said that the allegations made against Wattal have been examined and found that they are only due to personal vengeance made by above officers who are not satisfied with the APAR gradings awarded to them.
■ In January, a PIL was filed in Bombay High Court seeking a probe into suicides and unnatural deaths of scientists. The PIL said, “Scientific community has been plagued by suicides, unexplained deaths and sabotage [that] have gone underreported.”
■ In July 2014, the government told Parliament that nine nuclear scientists committed suicide in 2009-2013 in atomic power stations and other research centres; three suicides were reported from Nuclear Power Corporation during the same period.