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Bhopal tragedy: What the GOM focuses on

June 18, 2010 00:51 IST

The Congress Core Committee met on Thursday evening to discuss the Bhopal gas leak and to give directions to the Group of Ministers who would be meeting on Friday afternoon to find a way of breaking the impasse created by the court verdict in handing out punishment to the guilty, said highly placed sources.

The GOM headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram would meet on Friday afternoon, followed by daily meetings on Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday, it is likely to submit its report to the Union Cabinet.

It is expected that the Cabinet would immediately take up the report, since
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is leaving for Canada on June 24 to attend the G20 Summit, and would be returning only by the end of the month.

Sources said that the Congress, and 10 Janpath in particular, do not want the issue to be prolonged beyond a point and have pushed for the GOM to conclude its deliberations at the earliest.  The 'push' comes in the wake of the media focusing on the role played by the then Congress government headed by Rajiv Gandhi, and 10 Janpath is keen to ensure that the matter should be 'out of the headlines' at the earliest.

It is learnt that informally the contours of the government action are already in place with the Union environment ministry to be made the nodal agency for the clean up operation around the Union Carbide plant, while the Union law ministry is already looking at various legal aspects to bring in changes in the existing laws on the subject.

The panel set up by the Bharatiya Janata Party led-Madhya Pradesh government has submitted its report to the state government, where they have recommended that a curative petition should be brought. The panel has also recommended more compensation for the victims.

Meanwhile, apart from Chidambaram, the GOM also includes Union ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad, S Jaipal Reddy, M Veerappa Moily, Kumari Selja, Prithviraj Chavan, Jairam Ramesh and Kamal Nath, and they are all expected to have done their home work to bring in the inputs from their ministries to ensure that a fully rounded picture is presented to the government.

While the preparations for the GOM meeting are on, politically the Congress continues to be on the back-foot as the media continues to dig into the events of December 1984 to try and zero in on who actually gave the orders for the return of then CEO of Union Carbide Warren Anderson to the United States.

The latest to speak out on the issue has been M K Rasgotra, the then foreign secretary. He has said that since Anderson wanted to come to India to pay his respects to those who had died, the Indian government had assured him
of a safe passage.

He said that he was arrested by mistake by the state government, but was released after the Centre intervened. He said that he got the clearance to let Anderson leave the country from P V Narasimha Rao, who was the then home minister, since Rajiv Gandhi was on tour and not in Delhi. But he said that after Gandhi's return, he was told the facts and he concurred with what had taken place.

But the Congress continues to remain silent and has made a mess of the whole issue, allowing it to grow by leaps and bounds and creating a situation where the focus continues to be on the role of Rajiv Gandhi, rather than the more substantive humane issues of compensation and bringing in more stringent laws. This is what the GOM is focusing on as it begins its meetings on Friday.

Renu Mittal