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Unformatted text preview: COMMENTARY july 24, 2010 vol xlv no 30 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 16 The authors are grateful to Neetha N for constructive comments. Babu P Remesh ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) and C P Vinod ( email@example.com ) are with the School of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. Radiation Incident in Mayapuri: Disquieting Signals to Labour Babu P Remesh, C P Vinod The nuclear radiation in a scrap market in west Delhi’s Mayapuri area, in April 2010, which led to the death of a worker and fatal injuries to many others is a shocking reminder of weaknesses in the system for tracking minor radioactive substances. Based on insights from Mayapuri, this commentary discusses the acute absence of occupational safety and health measures for workers in the informal sector, especially for those who work in extremely precarious and inhuman conditions. D ark images of death attached to the chemical leakage of Bhopal and the nuclear tragedy of Cher- nobyl are still haunting our collective p syche, thanks to the ritually repeated v isual streams in an age of televised reality. The latest disaster of this kind is the r adiation incident in the scrap market of Mayapuri Industrial Area in west Delhi in the first week of April, which caused one death and severe injuries to six others. The scary episode began on 7 April 2010 after a scrap dealer and few employees suffered burn injuries and fell ill, apparently due to radiation. The subse- quent enquiries led to the detection of a powerful radioactive isotope of Cobalt (Cobalt 60), which is normally used for medical purposes and for select uses in industry. While the initial media reports denied radioactive emissions and por- trayed the incident as a case of a mild chemical leak, the presence of Cobalt 60 and “acute radiation” was confirmed sub- sequently. Panic was triggered in the locality and in the neighbourhoods of the National Capital Region when a team of nuclear experts identified 11 sources of radiation in the vicinity and when the i nvestigative agencies were not able to immediately establish the source from where the radioactive material eventually found its way to Mayapuri. The issue was soon discussed in Par- liament and the minister of state for atomic energy explained that the scrap in question seemingly came from abroad, as the coun- try has “strict rules and regulations in place ” , to track the movement of radioac- tive material from domestic sources. This explanation of the minister was later proved wrong and the story soon took a different turn when the source of the mate- rial was traced back to a mass of scrap, auctioned by the chemistry laboratory of the Delhi University. Since then there have been a series of corrective d irections from the authorities to r egulate research i nstitutions and universities to prevent negligent handling of radio active material....
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