Human rights commission in India opens official probe into excessive radiation exposures

A monitoring group with court powers acts in response to a Center for Public Integrity article

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A government commission that monitors and enforces human rights in India has opened a probe into allegations reported by the Center for Public Integrity that villagers living near government-run uranium mines and others living downstream have persistently been exposed to high levels of radiation and suffered ill health as a result.

The New Delhi-based National Human Rights Commission, chartered by the parliament in 1993, said in a Dec. 16 statement on its website that it has asked the head of the Department of Energy, the head of the corporation that runs the mines and the chief government official in the Indian state where the mines are located to respond to the allegations within two weeks. The charges were referenced as part of a Center series this week on issues surrounding India’s nuclear industry.

The Commission, which functions like a civil court and has the power to obtain testimony, examine documents and request affidavits, said it had opened the probe on its own authority after reading the Center’s article about toxic leaks from the Jadugoda mining complex in Jharkhand and its effects on “people, livestock, rivers, forests and agricultural produce in the area.”

The commission said one of its members, Justice Shri D. Mururgesan, had “observed” that the Center’s article raises “a serious issue of violation of rights to health of the workers and local residents, besides damage to the environment, flora and fauna.” Murugesan is a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, according to his official biography.

Prior to the joint publication of the article by the Center and by Huffington Post India, the Center had asked both the Babha Atomic Research Centre, which conducts and oversees much nuclear work for the government, and the state-owned mining company for comment on the scientific evidence that citizens were being exposed to radiation levels that in some cases greatly exceeded international standards.

They declined comment on reported deaths and radiation levels. An official of the company said on condition of not being named, however, that it had been trying to follow health standards comparable to those in other countries. Its director, Diwarkar Acharya, claimed in a previous interview that those in the region whom scientists reported had been sickened from radiation exposure might have been “imported from elsewhere.”

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