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Bhopal tragedy: GOM faces tough questions

June 15, 2010 00:25 IST

Despite a statement issued by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to hold a meeting of the Group Of Ministers for the Bhopal gas tragedy at the earliest, the GOM headed by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram would meet only on June 18, the date which was originally scheduled for the meeting, as the home minister is learnt to be busy with developments in Manipur.

The prime minister has asked the GOM to give its report on the Bhopal gas tragedy to the Cabinet within ten days with all its recommendations and findings, but sources say that there is unlikely to be any speedy progress, since the PM himself is going to Canada on June 24, and would only be back by the end of the month.

The sources claim that the government has widened the scope and references of the GOM to include various aspects, including what were the circumstances under which Warren Anderson, then CEO of Union Carbide, left India, why the quantum of punishment and compensation were so low, and what are the suggestions, remedies and opinions to be given to the government to ensure justice for the Bhopal gas victims.

The Union Carbide site in Bhopal continues to lie in disuse with NGOs and others claiming that toxic waste still exists there; with questions arising as to who will clean up the place and how will it be done.

For the moment, politics is revolving around whether then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had a hand in allowing Warren Anderson to leave the country or whether it was the handiwork of others, like the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh (who had two rounds of meetings with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi recently, but has remained quiet about what really happened).

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is not a part of the Bhopal GOM, has indicated the current thinking of the government and the lines along which it is likely to present the defence of the then government headed by Rajiv Gandhi.

Mukherjee said that because of the fairly explosive situation which prevailed in Bhopal at that time, Arjun Singh must have decided to let Anderson leave Bhopal as it could have led to further violence and the fact that the people's anger would have been targeted against Anderson.

With the government keeping quiet for so many days and the party failing to stem the speculation and failing to defend the then government, the situation for the Congress has now become messier than it ever was.

Rajiv Gandhi's cousin and his close aide of that time Arun Nehru has said that Anderson met President Giani Zail Singh and the then home minister P V Narasimha Rao before he left the country. The question which stems from this is who organised these meetings, and while it may have been necessary for Anderson to leave Bhopal due to people's anger, why was he allowed to leave Delhi, and that too in such a rush?

These are the questions which the GOM is expected to answer, so says the party as it now obliquely points a finger at Narasimaha Rao and wants to know from the media why no one is questioning the role of the home minister.

Renu Mittal