Government on defensive on Delhi radiation exposure (Lead)

April 20th, 2010 - 5:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, April 20 (IANS) While asserting that adequate safeguards would be put in place to prevent a recurrence, the government Tuesday found itself on the defensive in the Rajya Sabha as members across the spectrum questioned how people had been exposed to radiation in Delhi.
The government also admitted to the need for tightening registration procedures for scrap dealers and for a law to compensate victims in an incident of the kind that occurred in the capital’s Mayapuri scrap market that has left seven people battling for their lives.

Noting that the Cobalt-60 found in the scrap market “most likely came as scrap from abroad, from which country we do not know”, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan said in reply to a calling attention motion raised by D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI): “I wish to assure this house that elaborate equipment in the form of full container scanners is being put in place at all major ports (to ensure that radioactive scrap does not come into the country).”

“All of it has not been deployed. It is being deployed. Why has there been a delay? Two scanners have been installed at Nhava Sheva. Twelve more are in the process of being installed,” he said, adding: “The registration of scrap dealers also needs to be strengthened.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was present in the house, sat silently through the hour-long discussion.

Addressing the concerns of members on the compensation to be paid to victims of the Mayapuri tragedy, Chavan said: “At present there is no law for providing compensation for such accidents. We need to enact a law for this.”

Earlier, Chavan said in a statement: “I would like to assure this august house that all possible care is being taken to ensure that the country is prepared to handle any radiological emergency arising in the public domain.”

In this context, he noted that the Department of Atomic Energy has organised courses to train front line officers (FLOs) “on the issues of detection, intradiction and response related to radiological incidents.

This, however, did not satisfy Raja and other opposition members, most notably Najma Heptullah and S.S. Ahluwalia of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as also Jayanti Natarajan and P.J. Kurien of the Congress, who wondered how the Mayapuri incident had occurred if proper systems were in place and called for tightening procedures.

“The minister’s statement is not convincing,” Raja said, adding: “The radiation mishap has exposed the unpreparedness and ill preparedness of the nation. There has been a regulatory failure and lack of professional competence.”

“Don’t we have any way of finding out what waste is coming from abroad?” asked Heptullah, adding: “There is no proper waste disposal policy and even if we make the rules, who will implement them?”

“The people affected will not get compensation as there is no law,” Ahluwalia interjected, and added: “After (the) Bhopal (gas tragedy), a law was passed. This should be done now.”

According to Natarajan, the Mayapuri incident “falls in the gap of two important issues”.

“There is the irresponsible disposal of bio-medical waste by hospitals. Then, there is a lacuna in the law on disposal of radioactive waste by hospitals. Is there a gap in the laws? Is the Delhi Police equipped to deal with such incidents?” Natarajan wondered.

Kurien questioned the decision to declare the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) as the nodal body for dealing with the Mayapuri incident, saying it was only meant for dealing with natural disasters. Chavan, however, did not agree, saying the Mayapuri incident fell within the agency’s ambit.

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