By Nidhi Singh, National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi

Editor’s Note: A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, toxins or other harmful agents used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be mutated or altered to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment. Bioterrorism agents can be separated into 3 separate categories namely, Priority Category A, Priority Category B and Priority Category C. Many countries as a result came together and signed many treaties and conventions to curb the use of toxins and chemicals in weapons. In 1925 many countries became part of the Geneva Protocol which was passed to control International Trade in arms, munitions etc. The Geneva Protocol became the stepping stone for countries to come together in an attempt to stop the usage of these toxins. In 1966 the UN Convention passed a resolution for strict adherence to the principles laid down by the Protocol. Despite all this there is an imminent threat of Bioterrorism that looms over the world. India with the Prevention of Terrorism Act, punishes acts of terrorism, however the laws make no mention of bioterrorism whatsoever.  The paper goes on to talk about the various incidents of bioterrorism that have taken place all over the world such as the Rajneeshee incident, Aum Shinrikyo event etc. In conclusion, there is a need to develop proper laws to tackle this upcoming problem and a collective effort is required by all the states to curb this issue.”

What is terrorism?

Terrorism has blighted societies since the very beginning. Leaders have been assassinated; acts of extreme violence have been committed against civilians in the name of religion, political belief, and other ideologies. Terrorism usually connotes evil, indiscriminate violence and brutality. It is commonly perceived that terrorists attack governments, and even international organizations, in order to undermine or destroy a political system, or a way of life. Such attacks, however, are often directed against innocent civilians.[i]

These basic descriptions may seem banal, but political scientists, scholars and politicians have to this day not been able to agree on a clear definition of terrorism. The lack of agreement is easy to understand, especially when one considers the very nature of international relations and politics, and the associated differing views on what constitutes a legitimate government or accepted way of life.

It is, therefore, not surprising that there has been a multitude of definitions proposed for terrorism; some exceedingly complicated, but others too simplified. For the purposes of this discussion, the following definition captures the most important elements of terrorism as we widely know it today:

“Terrorism involves political aims and motives. It is violent or threatens violence. It is designed to generate fear in a targeted audience that extends beyond the immediate victims of the violence. The violence is conducted by an identifiable organization. The violence involves a non-state act or actors as either the perpetrator or the victim of violence or both. Finally, the acts of violence are designed to create power in situations in which power was previously lacking (i.e., the violence attempts to enhance the power base of the organization undertaking the operation.)[ii]

Some theorists trace the origin of terrorism back to the 18th century when it was frequently employed as a tactic during the French revolution, according to the 1798 supplement of the Dictionnaire of the Academic Francaise, the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ stem from the ‘regime de la terreur’, which is a period of French history that followed the storming of the Bastille and the 1789 uprisings.[iii] Terrorism was used to consolidate and entrench a newly established revolutionary State by intimidating counter-revolutionaries and other dissidents regarded as enemies of people. Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre held the view that revolution and terrorism had to work together to ensure the success of democracy.[iv] The very purpose of terrorism was to deal swiftly with international anarchy and external invasion by other European monarchs.

Throughout history, terrorism has been deeply woven into the fabric of social and political conflict.[v] Although that element of terrorism has not changed, modern terrorism has evolved into a more complex and dangerous threat. Terrorists are able to exploit new technologies, global communication networks, and loose cell-based terror networks, with limited command and control structures to plan and perpetrate sophisticated attacks around the world. Terrorist groups have been skilful in their use of information technology and the Internet to create unprecedented opportunities for violent extremists and their group members to broadcast their messages across the globe. Besides using internet for propaganda and recruitment purposes, terrorists are also able to share information and technical advice in relation to explosions, operational tactics, and terror training.

Many more present-day acts of terrorism have demonstrated little or no remorse over the killing of large number of civilians in the name of the cause. The underlying motivations for these terror campaigns encompass a broad range of political and religious beliefs and ideologies. The most well-known of these groups is Al-Qaida which has been responsible for the stacks on the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the attack on the Us destroyer, USS Cole in 2003; attack on a commuter train in Madrid in 2004; and the attacks on the UK public transport system in London on 7 July 2005.

What is Bio-Terrorism?

bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, toxins or other harmful agents used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be mutated or altered to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment[vi]. Biological agents can be spread through the air, water, or in food. Terrorists tend to use biological agents because they are extremely difficult to detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days. Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, cannot.[vii]

The use of biological agents is so attractive to the terrorist because of the ease of acquisition, of the ease and economy of production also because of low visibility, and the ease and stealth of delivery. Throughout the world, countries have set up new administrative and operational structures and adapted their preparedness and response plans in order to deal with the new threat[viii]. On the wider international level, global health security measures to strengthen the public health response to the threat of international biological, chemical and radio-nuclear terrorism have been initiated. Governments and international entities with responsibilities related to maintenance of peace, security, safety and health protection have made it a priority to review their political, economic, diplomatic, military and legal capacity to face up to such attacks and have embarked on major efforts to increase their preparedness[ix].

More than 180 pathogens have been reported to be potential agents for bioterrorism. In order to create a list of agents that would be feasible to the scope of effective review, it was necessary to narrow down the number of agents significantly[x]. The logic behind implementing such a reduction is supported by the World Health Organization’s stated approach in their 2004 Second Edition of “Public Health Response to Biological and Chemical Weapons”: “A central consideration in such preparedness planning is that it is neither possible nor necessary to prepare specifically for attack by all possible biological and chemical agents. If a country is seeking to increase its preparedness to counter the effects of biological and chemical attacks, the targeting of its preparation and training on a limited but well-chosen group of agents will provide the necessary capability to deal with a far wider range of possibilities[xi]. Knowledge of the general properties of this representative group of agents will enable certain measures to be taken against virtually any other agent. In addition to being impractical from a preparedness perspective, long and exhaustive lists of agents also give a misleading impression of the extent of possible threats.”

Bioterrorism agents can be separated into three categories[xii], depending on how easily they can be spread and the severity of illness or death they cause. Category A agents are considered the highest risk and Category C agents are those that are considered emerging threats for disease[xiii].

Priority Category A – Diseases/Agents          

The U.S. public health system and primary healthcare providers must be prepared to address various biological agents, including pathogens that are rarely seen in the United States. These high-priority agents pose a risk to national security, can be easily transmitted and disseminated, result in high mortality, have potential major public health impact, may cause public panic, or require special action for public health preparedness.

Examples- Bacillus anthracis / Anthrax, Clostridium botulinum toxin / Botulism, Yersinia pestis / Plague, Variola major / Smallpox

Priority Category B – Diseases/Agents

Category B agents are moderately easy to disseminate and have low mortality rates; they also require specific enhancements of CDC’s diagnostic capacity and enhanced disease surveillance.

Examples – Brucella species / Brucellosis, Epsilon toxin of Clostridium perfringens , Salmonella species, Escherichia coli O157:H7

Priority Category C – Diseases/Agents

Category C agents are emerging pathogens that might be engineered for mass dissemination because of their availability, ease of production and dissemination, high mortality rate, or ability to cause a major health impact.

Examples – Emerging infectious diseases such as Nipahvirus and Hantavirus.

Bio-Terrorism in the International Context

At the first Hague peace conference of 1899, Hague declaration two prohibited the use of projectiles the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases. As mentioned in the prefatory note to that document, 1899 Hague Declaration 2 was derived from the customary rules prohibiting the use of poison and materials causing unnecessary suffering[xiv].

At the conclusion of the First World War, articles in various peace treaties reiterated and in some aspects enlarged the prohibition embodied in the 1899 declaration. For example, Article 171 of the 1919 treaty of Versailles stated; “ the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and all analogous liquids, materials or devices being prohibited, their manufacture and importation are strictly forbidden in Germany( their possession was also forbidden)”

The 1922 Washington treaty relating to the use of submarines and noxious gases in warfare prohibited the use of ‘asphyxiating poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices’, but it did not enter into force[xv].

The 1925 Geneva protocol was adopted by the international conference on the control of the International trade in arms, munitions, and implements of war, which had been convened by the Council of the League of Nations and met in Geneva from 4 May to 17 June 1925. Under the protocol, so far as the states were not already parties to treaties prohibiting ‘the use in war of asphyxiation, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids materials or devices’, the states accepted this prohibition, and they also extended it to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare[xvi].

Many states became parties to the protocol subject to the reservation that it is binding only in relation to other states bound by it and shall cease to be binding if an enemy or its allies fail to respect the prohibitions embodied in it[xvii]. In other words, many states understood this agreement not as a complete prohibition on the use of such weapons, but as a promise to not use them first. Some have considered this as a realistic and effective means of securing the observance of the prohibitions contained in the protocol. Following the entry into force of the 1992 and the 1993 treaties prohibiting the possession of biological weapons, discussed further below, the idea that state may have a right to retaliate with these kinds of weapons becomes doubtful; and a number of states have wholly or partially withdrawn their earlier reservations to the protocol which had sought to safeguard that right[xviii].

The protocol’s terms leave considerable room for divergent interpretations of the prohibitions embodied in it. States have taken different positions on whether tear gas and other similar non-lethal gases, or herbicides and similar agents fall within the protocol’s prohibition. As regard to tear gas, an attempt was made in 1930 to gain clarification.[xix] On December 2, 1930 in the preparatory commission for the disarmament conference, the British Government submitted a memorandum drawing attention to a ‘ serious ambiguity’ in the wording of the protocol, namely that where the English text referred to ‘asphyxiating, poisonous and other gases’, the equally authentic French text had the word ‘similaires’ in place of others. However both countries clarified that they placed lachrymatory (tear) gases as prohibited by the protocol. 11 other member countries agreed to this Anglo-French view, USA dissented from it[xx].

Since 1966, the UN general assembly has adopted several resolutions, calling for strict observance of the principles of the 1925 Geneva protocol : GA resolution 2603A (XXIV) of 16th December 1969 interprets the protocol, declaring that it prohibits the use in international armed conflicts of :

“(a) any chemical agents of warfare- chemical substances, whether gaseous liquid or solid- which might be employed because of their direct toxic effects on man, animals or plants; (b) any biological agents of warfare- living organisms, whatever their nature, or infective material derived from them- which are intended to cause diseases or death in man, animals or plants, and which depend for their effects on their ability to multiply in the person, animal or plant attacked.”

Responding to a lack of investigative mechanism in the protocol to provide prompt and effective verification of an alleged violation, GA resolution 37/98 (D) of December 14 1982, after calling on all states that had not yet done so to accede to the 1925 Geneva protocol, requested the Secretary-General ‘to investigate, with the assistance of qualified experts, information that may be brought to his attention by any member state concerning activities that may constitute a violation of the protocol or of the relevant rules of customary international law…’. In 1984, the secretary general submitted the report, which included provisional procedures[xxi].

The observance of this however, has been uneven. Italy used gas in 1935-36 during its invasion of Ethiopia. At the outbreak of the Second World War, several states, including Germany, declared they would observe the provisions of the protocol subject to reciprocity. In military operations during Second World War, gas and bacteriological weapons were not used to any great extent. The most important exception was the Japanese use of gas and experimentation with biological weapons in chine between 1937 and 1945. In so far as most of the belligerents refrained from using such weapons (of which they had stocks) in warfare, this was due to a variety of factors which included fear of retaliation in kind[xxii].

In a number of conflicts since the Second World War, the use of chemicals and bacteriological weapons has been alleged, and in certain cases involving chemical weapons verifies.  In most such cases at least one party to the conflict was not a party to the protocol. In 1892 the US government issued two reports alleging use of chemicals and toxins in weapons in Laos, Cambodia and Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and its allies[xxiii]. In the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988, chemical weapons were repeatedly used, even though both countries were party to the contract.

A UN mission to investigate these allegations of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war issued 7 reports between March 1984 and August 1988. On 21 March 1986 a UN Security Council statement severely criticized Iraq for ‘use of chemical weapons, in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925’. On 26th August 1988 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 620 condemning the ‘use of chemical weapons, in the conflicts between Iran and Iraq[xxiv]. During the war Iraq also used chemical weapons against its own Kurdish minority population, in particular in an attack on the town of Halabja I northern Iraq I March 1988. In 1992 there were further UN missions investigating the further use of chemical weapons in Azerbaijan and Mozambique[xxv].

Usually, for a pre-1945 treaty, the protocol has continued to attract new states in considerable numbers; sixty- three have indicated their adherence since the beginning of 1970. Further evidence of the ongoing importance of the treaty was the January 1989 Paris Conference on the prohibition of chemical weapons convened following concern about the use of chemical warfare in the Iran-Iraq war, and was attended by the representatives of 143 states. The conference’s final declaration reaffirmed the commitment not to use chemical weapons, recognized the importance and continuing validity of the Geneva Protocol, and stressed the need to conclude a Convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

Partly because of the large number of states bound by the Geneva Protocol and repeated expressions of support for it in the UN General Assembly and Security council, the prohibitions embodied in the protocol are widely viewed as having become a part of customary international law. As customary international law, the protocol would be applicable to all states, not merely those bound by ratification, accession or succession. However, some suggest that the controversy over the interpretation, as well as the character of reservations have reduced the protocol’s interpretation, as well as the character of reservations, have reduced the Protocol’s usefulness as a guide to customary international law in this area. The weight of opinion has long been that at least the first use of lethal chemical and biological weapons is prohibited by customary international law. Fewer consensuses exist on the status under customary international law of non-lethal agents is very difficult to draw.

The protocol’s prohibition on the use of both biological and chemical weapons has been supplemented with prohibitions on possession. Biological weapons are the subject of the 1972 convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin weapons and on their Destruction which entered into full force in 1975. Chemical weapons are the subject of the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, which entered into force in1997. These two treaties, by prohibiting possession of the biological and chemical weapons “in any circumstances”, also prohibit their use: in the case of the chemical weapons convention, this is explicit in Article 1. The parties to these treaties have renounced any right of like-for-like retaliation against chemical or biological weapons, and they have also renounced any right to use such weapon against their own populations (for example a civil war, which was an issue which had not been covered by the 1925 Geneva Protocol).

Bio-Terrorism in India

A palpable undercurrent of fear runs through Mumbai’s large postal sorting office near the domestic airport. But for the tell-tale signs of canvas mailbags and letters, the once buzzing place could be mistaken for an operating theatre.

In spite of the warm weather, postal workers don rubber gloves and surgical face masks before solemnly going about their daily task – sorting the million-odd pieces of foreign mail that the city receives each day. “We’re scared,” says section superintendent S.M. Joshi bluntly. Delhi, Kolkata, and other cities witness similar scenes and apprehensions.[xxvi]

This excerpt was from a newspaper in November 2001, this was amongst the bio-terror scares that emerged in the country, and however, it wasn’t the last. Despite having no definitive legal framework for bioterrorism in our country, we have been faced with this particular challenge many times. The problem of bio-terrorism has found virtually no mention in the laws of our country. It has only found a small mention in the POTA,

Article (3) reads Punishment for terrorist acts.-

(1) Whoever,-

(a) with intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people does any act or thing by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or firearms or other lethal weapons or poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals or by any other substances (whether biological or otherwise) of a hazardous nature or by any other means whatsoever, in such a manner as to cause, or likely to cause, death of, r injuries to any person or persons or loss of, or damage to, or destruction of, property or disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of the community or causes damage or destruction of any property or equipment used or intended to be used for the defence of India or in connection with any other purposes of the Government of India, any State Government or any of their agencies, or detains any person and threatens to kill or injure such person in order to compel the Government or any o her person to do or abstain from doing any act;

And in Article (4) Possession of certain unauthorized arms, etc.- Where any person is in unauthorized possession of any-

(a) arms or ammunition specified in columns (2) and (3) of Category I or Category III (a) of Schedule I to the Arms Rules, 1962 , in a notified area,

(b) bombs, dynamite or hazardous explosive substances or other lethal weapons capable of mass destruction or biological or chemical substances of warfare in any area, whether notified or not, he shall be guilty of terrorist act notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, and be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to imprisonment for life or with fine which may extend to rupees ten lakh or with both. Explanation.- In this section,” notified area” means such area as the State Government  may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify.

These are the only two places where bio-terrorism has found any mention in the POTA. India has however faced many bio-terror threats, some of them as recent as 2010.

In 2001[xxvii], the scare was prompted by the death of two US postal workers, who accidentally inhaled anthrax spores present in the envelopes they were sorting; due to this all states had been put on high alert, by creating control rooms, where all the suspicious mail had to be sorted, and by providing postal employees with masks and gloves. Many laboratories were set up with the ability to test for these pathogens and hospitals were also equipped to handle patients in case of an outbreak.

In 2006[xxviii], American diplomats were worried about the increasing threat of bio-terror in India. ‘Advances in the biotech sector and shifting terrorist tactics that focus on disrupting India’s social cohesion and economic prosperity oblige the GOI to look at the possibility of terror groups using biological agents as weapons of mass destruction and economic and social disruption’.

The plethora of indigenous highly pathogenic and virulent agents naturally occurring in India and the large Indian industrial base — combined with weak controls — also make India as much a source of bioterrorism material as a target. In addition, India’s notably weak public health and agricultural infrastructure coupled with high population density means that a deliberate release of a disease-causing agent could go undetected for quite a while before authorities become aware. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, India is particularly vulnerable to agriculture attacks. Moreover, lack of communication, coordination, and cooperation among key stakeholders from different sectors will continue to remain a major impediment to the GOI’s capacity to respond to a bioterrorism attack.

The impact of a biological attack or the accidental release of a disease-causing agent in India could be devastating, given the high population density in Indian cities and the growing mobility of India’s middle class. Most biological warfare (BW) agents do not produce symptoms for many hours or several days, so Indians exposed to a contagious BW agent could easily spread the agent to thousands before symptoms manifest. Release in an Indian city could facilitate international spread — Delhi airport alone sees planes depart daily to numerous European, Asian, Middle Eastern and African destinations, as well as non-stop flights to Chicago and Newark.

In essence, it was said that even though the government of India did not consider a biological attack to be likely in the near future, they were very ill-equipped to handle one and would therefore be taking some major steps in that direction to make sure that if need arose, they would be equipped to handle the situation.

In 2007[xxix], the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said “Intelligence on terror strikes will remain with the concerned central security agencies, while a recently formed expert group could formulate a plan to deal with exigencies in case of biological or chemical warfare”. This was published in response to a report by Indian intelligence agencies, warning the interior ministry of possible biological attacks on the country. He suggested setting up a high-level policymaking body capable of providing advice and assistance to states during times of disaster.

The most recent one, was via a wiki leaks cable in 2010[xxx], The confidential cables revealed that a senior Indian diplomat told the US in 2006 that concerns about biological weapons were “no longer academic”, adding that intelligence suggested terror groups were increasingly discussing bio warfare, the Guardian reported on Friday.

“(Diplomat) YK Singh reported that Indian intelligence is picking up chatter indicating jehadi groups are interested in bioterrorism, for example seeking out like-minded PhDs in biology and biotechnology,” a cable from the US embassy in New Delhi sent to Washington said.

“He compared the prospects for nuclear terrorism (‘still in the realm of the imaginary’) to bioterrorism (‘an ideal weapon for terrorism … anthrax could pose a serious problem …it is no longer an academic exercise for us’).”

Another cable warns that “advances in the biotech sector and shifting terrorist tactics that focus on disrupting India’s social cohesion and economic prosperity oblige the (Government of India) to look at the possibility of terror groups using biological agents as weapons of mass destruction and economic and social disruption”.

It also warns terrorists could easily find the material they need for bioterrorism in India and use the country as a base for launching an international campaign involving the spread of fatal diseases[xxxi].

In this way, even though India has had its fair share of threats, there still remains a need to put into place a legislative mechanism to check the growing threat of biological warfare and to construct contingency mechanisms to check the after effects of such a threat, should it come to pass.

 Recent cases of bio-terrorism

There are in fact relatively few recent examples of bioterrorism. If we look closely at historical record, there have been approximately 200 incidents involving toxic biological materials in the last 100 years. Most of them were minor attempts at disruption. Therefore, history is not a good indicator of the future. History does tell us, however, that it is time to take this threat more seriously[xxxii].

Accounts of these incidents reveal how society at large is learning the hard way about bioterrorism. Before the 1990s, most governments paid little or no attention to the problem of biological weapons, especially in terms of defense.

 Firstly, we see the Rajneeshee incident in the U.S. (Interestingly, the Rajneeshee sect moved from India to the United States in 1984. The next big incident to be examined will be the Aum Shinrikyo event in the 1990s in Japan. In 2001, of course, there was the more well-known attack with the anthrax-laden letters in the U.S.

The first case study is that of the Rajneeshees, who were trying to take over political control of the area where they lived in Oregon. They had a licensed medical facility on their commune and obtained samples of salmonella bacteria quite legitimately. They grew cultures of salmonella and spread the resulting material on salad bars in 10 restaurants in a place called The Dalles. Then they sat back and waited.

Many people suffered symptoms and became ill. There were an estimated 751 cases of salmonellosis. A few people were hospitalized, but fortunately no one died. The authorities, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), erroneously determined that the event was an ordinary outbreak of food poisoning, occasioned most probably by poor hygiene at one of the restaurants. They reached this conclusion even though all of the signs, including the pattern of disease, indicated otherwise. In fact, there are many reasons people did not recognize this incident, and, in some ways, did not want to recognize it. However, the police later investigated other activities of the Rajneeshees, and eventually, several individuals confessed to the crime. Ultimately, two people were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms for their involvement in the incident.

The next case that of the Aum Shinrikyo sect, occurred in Japan in the early 1990s. The incident in which about 12 people were killed and thousands were affected to a lesser extent, by the sect’s release of Sarin nerve agent on the Tokyo subway, is well known. However, members of the sect also undertook several unsuccessful attempts to use biological agents in the years preceding the subway incident. It was precisely because of these failures that they employed Sarin in the way they did.

The sect tried on a number of occasions to disseminate botulinum toxin by driving a car through the streets. These toxin attacks failed because of poor dissemination technique and possibly, as reported by the police because the sect failed to produce an active toxin from the Clostraidal culture they used.

In 1993, the sect failed in an attempt to disseminate liquid anthrax from the roof of a building they owned in Tokyo. Many people had complained to the police about the terrible smell coming from the building. The police could not do much about that and did not want to interfere. The anthrax they used was eventually identified as a non-virulent animal vaccine strain; a Sterne variant. Had they used a fully virulent strain of anthrax, the result, despite their poor dissemination technique, might have been a lot different. Fortunately, as it was, no one became ill.

In 1995, there was a sabotaged attempt to disseminate botulinum toxin in the Tokyo subway. The Aum Shinrikyo sect plotted to place cylinders of the material under the subway escalators. The person who was given the job, however, could not go through with it and filled the cylinders with water. As a result, the attack was foiled by one of the sect’s own members in a fit of conscience.

The third example of a biological weapons attack is the anthrax letter incidents in the United States. Five letters were sent through the mail to high-profile individuals. A highly virulent strain of anthrax called Ames was used[xxxiii].


In conclusion, we see that India is in need of a definitive constitutional framework to combat the upcoming threat of biological warfare. While over the years many statements have been made regarding advancements to be made in this field, however, there has been no significant change in the legislative aspects.

To protect the country against such eventualities India should develop a contingency plan involving organizations like Defence and Home ministry, and scientific institutes/laboratories. Though India has established a National Institute for Disaster Management in 2003, it has no agenda specifically directed for bioterrorism and its mitigation. The first line of defence is the establishment of a high containment laboratory (Bio-safety level-4)[xxxiv] having ultra-modern facilities, preferably under the home ministry or science and technology or defence ministry, for quick and precise diagnosis of all the agents presently listed under bio-weapons and their storage under safe custody for developing vaccines and antidotes for use in emergency[xxxv].

As of now, there is only one bio-safety level-4 laboratory in India at Bhopal under The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) which is engaged in diagnosis and control of exotic animal diseases. This laboratory, though capable, to work on biological agents used in bio-weapons should not dilute its present activities. After September 2001[xxxvi] attack in USA, many samples suspected for anthrax were received in Bhopal laboratory for testing and found to be a hoax. The laboratory tested successfully a recombinant anthrax vaccine (PA antigen) in laboratory animals and monkeys for subsequent vaccination of humans. The vaccine is now under field trials with good results. The vaccine can be used for defense personnel, postal department employees and police who are vulnerable[xxxvii].

Presently Government of India, under ICMR and CSIR has initiated the establishment of two bio-safety level-4 laboratories at Pune and Hyderabad for use in health-related high-risk pathogens. It is high time to develop preparedness for bioterrorism to safeguard the country. To establish such facilities, technologies are now available indigenously. The resources can be pooled under one umbrella to concentrate on the subject. Even if we initiate now it will take 5-10 years to get the desired results[xxxviii].

An act of bioterrorism might range from dissemination of aerosolized anthrax spores to food product contamination and predicting when and how such an attack might occur is not possible. Preparing the nation to address such threats is a formidable challenge, but the consequences of being unprepared could be devastating[xxxix]. The public health and animal health infrastructures must be prepared to prevent illness that would result from bioterrorism like emerging infectious diseases[xl]. Early detection and control of biological attack depends on a strong and flexible public health and animal health system at local, state and national levels. Combating bioterrorism will require capitalizing on advances in technology, information system and medical and veterinary sciences. Preparedness will also require a re-examination of core activities like disease surveillance in the light of these advances.

Formatted on 14th March 2019.


[i]Arvinder Sambei, Anton du Plessis, Martin Polaine “ Counter terrorism Law and Practice: An International Handbook” Pg. 2

[ii]J M Lutz, B J Lutz “Global Terrorism”

[iii]A Hubschle, “ The T-word: Conceptualising Terrorism” (2006)

[iv]B Hoffman “ Defining Terrorism”

[v]G Martin, “ Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspective and Issues”

[vi] Public Health Response to Biological and Chemical Weapons – WHO Guidance, World Health Organization Geneva, 2004

[vii] Centre for Disease Control and Prevention

[viii] Biosecurity and Biodefence Resource, Federation of American scientists (FAS),

[ix] Bioterrorism and Threat Assessment no22, Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC),  GARY A. ACKERMAN AND KEVIN S. MORAN ,

[x] WHO – Public health response to biological and chemical weapons – WHO guidance /en/index.html

[xi] See also last seen

[xii] Heymann D. Control of Communicable Diseases Manual. 18th Edition, American Public Health Association, 2004.

[xiii]  American Red Cross – Terrorism Preparedness,1082,0_589_,00.html

[xiv] Block, Steven M. (2001), “The growing threat of biological weapons”American Scientist (American Scientist)

[xv] See also

[xvi]  Christopher, G. W.; et al. (1998), Adapted from Biological Warfare: A Historical Perspective, Fort Detrick, Maryland: Operational Medicine Division

[xvii] Milanovich, F. (June 1998), Reducing the threat of biological weapons, Science and Technology Review

[xviii] Health Protection Agency. release/Anthrax/Organism

[xix] New York State Dept. of Health.  Nov 2006

[xx] Public Health Response to Biological and Chemical Weapons – WHO Guidance, World Health Organization Geneva, 2004

[xxi]Supra note 15


[xxiii] Prasad A. S (December 2001) History of Bioterrorism. The Indian Practitioner

[xxiv] D. R. Arora (2003) Biological Warfare: Bioweapons: Bioterrorism in Textbook of Microbiology 2nd ed.

[xxv] Atlas RM (1998) The Medical threat of biological weapons. Critical Reviews Microbiol 24

[xxvi] ‘Spore response’, India Today, 5th November 2001, see also

[xxvii] See also

[xxviii] See also

[xxix] See also

[xxx] See also

[xxxi] See also

[xxxii]See also

[xxxiii] See also

[xxxiv] See also

[xxxv] See also

[xxxvi] Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Biological and Chemical Terrorism: Strategic Plan for Preparedness and Response. Recommendations of the CDC Strategic Planning Workgroup. MMWR, Atlanta 2000

[xxxvii] Pradhan HK, Biosafety and biosecurity for  human and animal health. In: P.K. Shetty, Ajay Parida, M. S. Swaminathan. Biosecurity. National Institute of Advance Studies, Bangalore, 2008, 1st Edition; 38-45

[xxxviii] Raghunath D. Biological warfare and terrorism. In: P.K. Shetty, Ajay Parida, M. S. Swaminathan. Biosecurity. National Institute of Advance Studies, Bangalore, 2008, 1st Edition; 50-67



Leave a Comment


There are ten ways to read more.And one of them is to subscribe to our newsletter. Yes! A bit of reading never hurts.

Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime :)

There are ten ways to read more.And one of them is to subscribe to our newsletter. Yes! A bit of reading never hurts.

Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime :)