You are Publications Analysis
CBRN security in India
Rahul Prakash
19 November 2012

The increasing sophistication of terrorist incidents, the changing profile of terrorists (including the association of highly-qualified persons with such organisations), the access to know-how through the use of the Internet, and the globalised nature of terrorism have amplified the potential for a CBRN attack.

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) security is a matter of grave concern for many nations today. CBRN security in India is still in its early stages. There is a need to look at it from a broader perspective of internal and regional security challenges that manifest in the form of terrorism and left-wing extremism, among others.

India is party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BWC), and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC). Despite signing these international frameworks on CBRN, India's domestic laws and rules leave some gaps.

This article briefly touches upon the major legislation that deals with CBRN materials. Some of the findings are from a larger study conducted by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF; New Delhi) and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI; London) titled "Chemical, Biological and Radiological Materials: An Analysis of Security Risks and Terrorist Threats to India", in 2012.

The increasing sophistication of terrorist incidents, the changing profile of terrorists (including the association of highly-qualified persons with such organisations), the access to know-how through the use of Internet, and the globalised nature of terrorism have amplified the potential for a CBRN attack. The 1995 Sarin gas attack in Japan and the Anthrax attacks on the US in 2001 are disturbing instances where such methods have been effectively employed by non-state actors.

UN Security Council Resolution 1540, adopted in 2004, "affirms that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery constitutes a threat to international peace and security" and calls on signatory nations "to refrain from supporting by any means non-State actors from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing" such materials and delivery systems. The resolution indicates the heightened threat perception about CBRN terrorism.

In India, there is no overarching law which covers CBRN as a whole and addresses all related aspects. CBRN materials transported across India's borders are closely monitored, but this is not true for their movement within India's borders. Given that India is battling conventional threats such as terrorist attacks, bombings, insurgency and left-wing extremism on a regular basis, the CBRN threat is still considered something that is likely only in the distant future and not imminent.

There are several reasons for this position. To begin with, the security establishment in India believes that the terrorist and extremist organisations that are active in India do not possess the capability to carry out CBRN attacks. However, security agencies are likely to keep a close watch on these actors to spot any movement in this direction. Another factor which plays a key role in framing the general attitude towards CBRN threats is the absence of a large-scale incident resulting in huge losses. The Bhopal Gas tragedy where accidental leakage of a poisonous gas -- methyl isocyanate - led to large-scale casualties, changed the way industrial safety is implemented and enforced in India. The rules and regulations, and even the attitude towards industrial safety have improved since the accident in 1984.

There are several laws which deal with CBRN matters indirectly. The Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005, The Factories Act, 1948 (amended 1987), Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2004, Provisions under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 are some of such laws.

India is a hub for chemicals that are used across the globe due to their high quality and competitive pricing. Generic agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals constitute the major chunk of Indian chemical exports. The chemical industry in India alone contributes 7 percent of its GDP and accounts for 3 percent of global chemical industry. However, the laws relating to chemicals focus more on safety rather than security.

For instance, the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules of 1989 (amended in 2000) stipulates chemical factory owners take measures to ensure the safety of hazardous materials, but does not explicitly necessitate securing the materials. Chemicals such as ammonium nitrate (used in many bomb blasts in India and widely used in the agricultural sector) has been smuggled and traded across India by actors with malicious intent. It was only after the use of ammonium nitrate in many bomb blasts that the government stepped in and restricted access to this material.

Many such chemicals, industry experts point out, can be purchased over the counter. Recently, the government has taken note of this vulnerability and made necessary amendments. Yet the overall security of potentially destructive chemicals remains weak.

However, vulnerabilities during transportation are a problem faced by both small- and large-scale industries. The Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules of 2008 ensures that materials are safely contained during transport, but yet again ignores the security aspect.

Moreover, there exists a nexus in many states of India which is responsible for the pilferage of materials during transportation. Presently, the nexus is active in sectors where the materials offer economic benefits, such as petroleum. Some industries have taken steps to address this issue. For instance, some large-scale industries are equipping their containers and trucks with GPS devices and developing foolproof quantity measurement techniques. But the fact is that it has not become a measure across the board.

Rules for the manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms (1989), Bio-medical Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, (amended in 2000), Biological Diversity Act, 2002 are some of the laws that deal with biological materials. There have not been any proven incidents of biological terrorism in India so far. Though there have been incidents of sudden outbreaks of diseases, they have never been suspected to be man-made. However, it is not impossible to imagine such a scenario in the future when such outbreaks are created deliberately, stated experts interviewed during the course of the ORF-RUSI study. None of the laws deal directly with the threat of using bio-terrorism.

India follows a policy of 'zero' tolerance when it comes to nuclear security. This covers the nuclear material in India's possession, infrastructure and other equipment involved in both peaceful and military uses. The Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules (2004) provide norms that require the user to 'ensure physical security' of such materials. It ensures that no person without a license can establish a radiation installation or handle radioactive material. Heavy security cover is provided for such sites and installations that deal with nuclear material. In most cases, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is responsible for providing the security, both onsite and offsite (including while transportation of materials).

Even though the security measures in place for nuclear materials appear foolproof, the same cannot be said for other radiological materials. From the data collected for the ORF-RUSI study, it is evident that there have been many instances wherein radiological materials have been misplaced or stolen. The Mayapuri incident, where radioactive Cobalt-60 was found in a scrap yard in Delhi, is only one of the few incidents which got media attention. Out of the incidents found by the study, the most prominent was theft of uranium. As radioactive substances are used in many educational and medical research institutions and industries, their role is equally important.

While vulnerabilities do exist, the government of India has taken many steps to fill in the gaps. The National Disaster Management Act (2005) is such an initiative. This act established the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) which is the nodal agency for responding to CBRN incidents. The NDMA provides guidelines for CBRN response and these are implemented by the State Disaster Management Agencies. However, these guidelines are not legally binding and thus, the effectiveness varies.

What India clearly lacks in the CBRN context is a centralised approach and strict preventive measures especially for Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) materials. Nuclear materials, as discussed above remain high on the government's priority and thus incidents involving nuclear materials are less likely. This is not true for CBR security in India. Even the reporting of CBR related incidents in India is not given much importance due to the unavailability of an overarching law which covers these matters in detail. Though there are provisions under the Indian Penal Code for reporting such incidents, there is enough room for errors that could be potentially disastrous.

The Indian security agencies are monitoring the likely groups that could carry out such attacks on Indian soil and should be in a position to stop these attacks from taking place. However, given the nature of threats faced by India and increasing sophistication of operations conducted by terrorist organisations, attempts to carry out a CBRN attack in the future cannot be completely ruled out.

(Rahul Prakash is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)