Atomic Energy Act 1948 and 1962 and the administrative set up developed to implement the programme helped India’s march towards self-sufficiency in the field of atomic energy.
A few factors helped the implementation of the atomic energy programme. Firstly, Bhabha’s vision and Nehru’s mission coincided!
Secondly, the Atomic Energy Commission, set up through a Government Resolution on March 1, 1958, replacing the one set up in 1948 has a unique status.
Dr Homi Bhabha and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the architects of nuclear India, realized the need for evolving a flexible, executive and administrative machinery to respond to the needs of this nascent field. In setting up the Atomic Energy Commission, the Government considered the special requirements of atomic energy, the newness of the filed, the strategic nature of its activities and its international and political significance. The Government realized that the developments in the field of atomic energy called “for an organization with full authority to plan and implement the various measures on sound technical and economic principles and free from all non essential restrictions or needlessly inelastic rules”.
Thirdly, the order of 1954, setting up the Department of Atomic Energy allocated the Department to the charge of the Prime Minister, signifying the priority and importance given to the programme. DAE became the executive arm of AEC
Fourthly, DAE enjoys many unique privileges. It can execute civil works without approaching the Ministry of Works, Housing and Supply; it can make purchases directly without routing them through the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals (DGS&D). DAE can recruit personnel directly without approaching the Union Public Service Commission.
Fifth factor is that within the limits of the budget provision, approved by Parliament, the Commission has full powers of the Government of India, both administrative and financial, for carrying out the work of the Department of Atomic Energy. Believe it or not, the administrative model for the Commission, Dr Bhabha and Nehru chose was that of the Railway Board.
The constitution of the AEC made a provision that if required, the Commission can secure deviations from normal administrative and financial procedures by making direct submissions to the Prime Minister and getting his approval
Discriminatory embargoes delayed Indian nuclear programme; however, embargoes could not stop India’s progress. Indian scientists could develop the required technologies based on indigenous effort. Some of the factors referred to helped in achieving success in this commendable mission.
In 1908, Herr Schomberg, a German chemist identified the presence of monazite (thorium ore) in the sand remnants sticking to coir imported from Kerala. As thorium oxide was in great demand in gas mantle industry, he set up the first plant to separate monazite at Manavalakurichi (MK) in 1910 and later another plant at Chavara. Both plants shut shop when Government arrested Schomberg on charges of being a German spy during the First World War. Companies changed hands. Until 1940, the export by various companies was as high as 300,000 tons of minerals.
Before the Second World War, United States, Britain, France and Germany extracted the sands for use in gas mantle industry. According to Itty Abraham who wrote The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb, after the start of the war, the India’s War Trade Intelligence Department tightened control for fear that Germany would attempt to refine the sands for thorium.
In 1947, there were rumours that the Travancore Durbar (the administrative set up in the former princely State of Travancore) had entered into an agreement with the British Government for the disposal of monazite and thorium nitrate.
C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, the ambitious Dewan of Travancore, permitted the minerals attaché of the US Embassy to survey the region’s monazite sands in the hopes of attracting bids from US firms. USA, like other foreign countries coveted the beach sands of Travancore as it contained the world’s richest deposit of thorium. These sands were sought after because when processed, they yielded many “rare earth compounds
As desired by the scientists who attended the science congress in 1947, Nehru ensured the passing of the Atomic Energy Act 1948 which prohibited foreign exploitation of these resources and ensured their state control. As the activities in the field of atomic energy grew manifold, the Parliament repealed the Atomic Energy Act 1948 and promulgated the more comprehensive Atomic Energy Act 1962.