The visit of two foreign journalists to the high-security Bhabha Atomic research Centre (BARC) here has raised the hackles of the security establishment.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has asked BARC Director Srikumar Banerjee to explain how the journalists were allowed to photograph the facility during their visit. Was formal permission granted for filming, the Ministry has asked, official sources said.
In his reply, Banerjee has reportedly said that formal permission was neither sought nor granted but explained that the journalists were allowed to take photographs only from the outside and that they were accompanied at all times by BARC security officials.
Banerjee has explained that photographs of the building are easily available on the Internet and that the scribes clicked only the external view of the reactor building.
This explanation does not seem to have satisfied the ministry, nor is Banerjee’s contention that the authorities should not be overly sensitive about commonly available photographs, the sources said.
Efforts to seek reaction from Banerjee did not succeed as he refused to comment on the issue.
Government security agencies have been concerned over the vulnerability of BARC after it was listed as a possible target of the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.
US terror accused David Headley had admitted during interrogation that he had carried out reconnaissance of the BARC facility and handed over its Global Positioning System co-ordinates to his handlers in Pakistan.
49-year-old Headley, who has been under arrest in the US since October last year, had travelled to Chembur and Trombay several times and filmed the exit and entry points of BARC besides the movement of employees, the sources said.
He is reported to have hired a boat from the Gateway of India and videographed the atomic research centre from the sea side. The Mumbai 26/11 attackers had also arrived by sea and landed near the Gateway of India.
Headley is being prosecuted by the FBI on several charges, including for being part of the conspiracy in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Investigators including officials from the National Investigation Agency, who are probing the role of Headley and his Pakistani-Canadian accomplice Tahawwur Rana in India, suspect that during his boat ride, Headley may have surveyed the mangroves along the coastline.
The security around the nuclear installation and the mangroves has now been tightened, the sources said.