Published: Sunday 15 November 1998

Nuclear India

In the aftermath of India's nuclear explosions, R Chidambaram, the chairperson of India's Atomic Energy Commission, was recently refused visa by the US to attend the Congress of the International Union of Crystallography of which he is the vice-president. The UK has also denied visas to two scientists from the India's Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research to attend a meeting at the Oxford University. Many scientists today face a similar situation.

This is an issue that warrants urgent attention. The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), as a scientific forum, calls for unrestricted exchange of scientists among nations. But, I fail to understand why the Council has not responded to these discriminatory practices so far?

I am neither a fan nor a apologist of India's nuclear estate. At the same time, we cannot accept the doublespeak of the West, for whom democratic behaviour never travels beyond their borders. The West's claims of concern about nuclear dangers in South Asia are laughable. Where was this concern for South Asia when the French shipment of plutonium, heading for Japan, sailed through our waters in 1992 defying our protests? Their total disregard for our concern forced me to boycott the first World Conference of Science Writers held at Tokyo, where I was scheduled to address the gathering as a guest speaker.

A silent majority in India see the explosions as a challenge to none but the millions of Indians who live in eternal poverty. Seeking to build nuclear clout in an ocean of poverty, illiteracy, diseases and social insecurity is an exercise the Indian ruling classes alone undertakes with total disregard to the rest of the people and the other pressing problems. But the country has the internal strength, including its numerical majority, to contain the reactionary political formations that feed on delusions of nuclear clout.

The West's hit list is already a long one. Socialist Korea, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and now, alas, India and Pakistan. Students from these countries are being denied admission to courses related to nuclear technology in British universities. This was confirmed by a British official.

The international scientific community needs to urgently respond to the challenge posed by the western officialdoms' propensity to ostracise scientists from countries that do not readily toe the western line. Scientific forums such as ICSU and intergovernmental organisations like UNESCO should be used to address this concern. Intervention by the ICSU on the topic, so far, has been visible only in the cases of rebel scientists from the former Socialist Europe, White scientists from the apartheid regime and Israelis.

In this episode, the initial response of Chidambaram has been funniest of all. He told the media that he had withdrawn his visa application, thus absolving the Americans of their objectionable act. It took the unabashed honesty of a US diplomat to tell the truth. The statement of Chidambaram, ironically, was characteristic of the opaque and unaccountable manner in which India's nuclear estate operates....

No secret, this

The report on sacred groves 'Best kept sacred' (Down To Earth, Vo! 6, No 23; April 30) contains some incorrect facts. There is a mention of the forest of God -- the sacred groves of Himachal Pradesh. This place is not along the Mandi Palampur Road. It is very far from that road and is located in a remote, inaccessible area of Chuhar valley of Mandi district. One has to go there on foot, and it takes around five to six hours to reach the grove.

Also, this grove not only consists of oak and silver fur trees, but also deodar {Cedrus deodara). Century-old Deodar trees are found there....

More caution

The findings of the study conducted at the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College 'Carry on Doctor' (Down To Earth, Vol 7, No 4; July 15) do not appear convincing. The observations, analysis and conclusions should, therefore, be put to stringent scrutiny. Any data or conclusions must be supplemented with additional studies. The magnitude of the problem is so large and the consequences far-reaching, that it cannot be left to one group of researchers....

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