@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.
"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."