to baffle. They are usually explained away as suicides. When more questions are raised, they are described as unexplained. Sometimes, as the cases below of unexplained deaths will show, the government has described the deaths as accidents. In short, where a probe might have been warranted, none was ordered by the government. A PIL filed to probe the matter and demand the setting up of a special investigation team, notes: “Forensic experts say in all such unexplained deaths of scientists and engineers involved in the nuclear programme, fingerprints are absent, as also other clues that would assist the police in identifying the culprit(s).”
Death of Lokanathan Mahalingam was reported in June 2009. A 47-year-old senior scientific officer, he was working at the Kaiga atomic power station in Karnataka not far from an upcoming military installation of strategic significance. He went missing one morning after going for his morning walk and his body was recovered five days later. Police claimed it was a suicide but his family did not believe it as reported suggested that he was not seen leaving the complex. Even though nothing much came out of the investigation, years later an attempt was made to abduct a Nuclear Power Corporation scientist from the same location where Mahalingam's body was found near the Kaiga dam on Kali river. For the record, while Mahalingam’s death did not receive much attention locally, the Pakistani media gave it much play. Reports have suggested that he was cremated before the results of the DNA tests were released.
Also for the record, a report submitted by the medical experts of the Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, suggested that the death might have been caused by the “internal or external trauma or by drowning in the river”. The Superintendent of Police at the time said the medical report suggested that Mahalingam might have died of shock after or before his fall into the river.
An employee of the Nuclear Power Corporation India Ltd, Ravi Mule went missing one day. Days later, he was suspected to be murdered. However, the police failed to determine the reason for the murder. A medical report suggested that the cause of his death was “injuries consistent with the fall” — Mule had fallen from an eight storeyed building in Kaiga township. His motorcycle was parked nearby. There has been no headway in the investigation though reports suggested that his brother wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery death. He had said that there were marks on the back of his body.
Uma Rao, a retired scientist of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), was found dead in her house. It was reported that she committed suicide as she was suffering from depression. A suicide note was also found on her where she blamed only herself for the act. However, her colleagues did not buy the suicide theory saying she showed no signs of being depressed, let alone showing suicidal tendencies. This death too has remained a mystery and no answers have emerged to the many questions that it raised.
M Padmanabhan Iyer
An engineer working with the BARC, Iyer was found dead in Breach Candy residence at the high-security BARC residential compound on February 23, 2010. The police launched a probe but could not find any reason for his death. After days, the case was put in unexplained category as there was no evidence to prove anything. A police officer was quoted as saying that he might have been indulging in a “kinky experiment” pointing to internal haemorrhage caused by injury in the skull. But it could not be established what caused the injury. The police closed the case saying they could not locate the person who had killed the scientist.
KK Joshi and Abhish Shivam
KK Joshi and Abhish Shivam were engineers working on the nuclear submarine project. They were found dead in Visakhapatnam in October 2013. Even though their bodies were found on the railway track, there were no signs if they were overrun by train. The reports also suggested that the police did not find any suspicious marks on the bodies which led to suggestions that they died somewhere else and their corpses were brought to the railway track to make it look like a suicide. In this case also there was no headway.
Mohammad Mustafa was a young scientist working in Kalpakkam nuclear power plant. He was found dead in his house in 2012 with his wrist slashed. It was believed to be a suicide but again there was nothing to corroborate it as investigators could not find any piece of evidence to prove that. Suicides notes were written in both English and Malayalam.
Dalia Nayak, working in Salt Lake in Kolkata, allegedly died after consuming mercuric chloride. A PhD in radiochemistry she worked in the chemistry department of Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics. In this case also, the police suspect suicide to be the reason and said that she was suffering from depression, a claim contested by her colleagues who described her as a fun loving person. Dalia's colleagues say she was a promising scientist and contested the suicide theory. Besides, she was going places career-wise. Shortly before her death she had been scheduled to leave for the UK. She had also been offered a post-doctoral fellowship at the Grand Accélérateur National d’Ions Lourds (GANIL) in France. She worked there for 10 months before returning to SINP and joined in a postdoctoral position.
Titus Pal was suspected to have committed suicide. Working in BARC, she was found hanging from the ceiling of her flat within the campus. She had returned from her hometown Kolkata after celebrating her birthday and died the day she resumed work. The body was recovered after she did not respond to phone calls from her father.
Umang Singh and Partha Pratim Bag
Umang Singh and Partha Pratim Bag were researchers in BARC, Trombay. They died in a fire that broke out in the lab of the facility in 2009. The fire itself was mysterious as investigations revealed that there was nothing inflammable in the lab. The cause of death is not known. Singh and Bag, both from West Bengal and studying at Bombay University, were PhD students in BARC's Radiation and Photochemistry Division. Sources said the authorities were surprised since neither was handling any inflammable material. It also emerged that of the five scientists working at the same laboratory, three had not been present. Singh and Bag’s bodies were charred beyond recognition.