District collector Vishwamohan Sharma wrote to the principal of the Sampoornanand Medical College in Jodhpur seeking a committee of experts from it for conducting a study of the entire area. Khetolai, around 25km from Pokhran Qasba on the Jaisalmer-Bikaner national highway, is the closest village to the Army’s Pokaran field firing range where five nuclear tests were done on May 18, 1974 and later on May 11 and 13, 1998.
Villagers had in April this year filed a writ petition with the state human rights commission expressing concern about the increasing number of cancer and psychiatric diseases. They also aired concerns on milk production falling drastically amongst cattle in the village and demanded a fresh study to be conducted in the area to ascertain whether radiation from the tests is the cause of these diseases.
The commission issuing notices to district collector and the chief medical and health officer (CMHO) here has sought a reply within two months.
Rajasthan state human rights commission member Dr M Devarajan on May 14, 2015 issued the order to the collector and said that the administration should take immediate steps.
Devarajan by sending copies of these orders to the principal and controller of Sampoornanand Medical College has sought copies of a similar study done by Dr RJ Sharma between 1984 and 1988. The study by Dr Sharma finds mention in an Indian journal of cancer. Sharma in his study had said that after the first nuclear test was done in 1974, 2,662 new cancer patients were found in Khetolai. There is a mention of many other kinds of diseases reported in the study. There has been blindness among 5.2% in men and 4.7% in women in Khetolai, whereas the world figure is 3.3% and 2.6%.
Jaisalmer CMHO Dr NR Nayak, felt that there is no truth in the villagers allegation. “The Central government, the state government, and experts from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have conducted studies from time to time to look into the possibility of radiation at Khetolai but there has been no report of any radiation,” he said.
Even the district collector Vishwa Mohan Sharma said that earlier too experts have done studies in Khetolai and other areas to check the spread of radiation and any diseases but nothing has come to light. But he said that soon a team would be formed in this regard and the study would start.