In the backdrop of outrage over the trial court's verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy, the government on Thursday announced a Rs 1265.56-crore package and decided to file a curative petition in Supreme Court, besides pushing for the extradition of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson.
The Union Cabinet, which considered the report of the Group of Ministers on the 1984 disaster, accepted all its 22 recommendations, but did not fix liability on anybody. It decided that the opinion of the attorney general would be sought on whether Dow Chemicals or any other successor to Union Carbide Corporation or Union Carbide India Limited could be held liable, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters.
The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, decided that ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh would be given to the kin of deceased victims in the tragedy, Rs 5 lakh to those who suffered permanent disability, Rs two lakh each to people who suffered cancer and total renal failure and Rs one lakh to those with temporary disability. The ex-gratia would benefit 45,000 affected people and the amount would be paid after adjusting the compensation already paid, Soni said.
The government also announced various packages for remediation, rehabilitation and other measures, taking the total spending to Rs 1265.56 crore. The Cabinet decided that additional material in support of the request for extradition of Anderson may be put together by concerned agencies and the external affairs ministry will thereafter present the request for extradition to the US government, she said.
India had made requests for Anderson's extradition earlier, the last being in 2008, but these have not been entertained by the US.
It was also decided that a curative petition may be filed in the Supreme Court for reconsideration of its judgment of September 9, 1996, by which the 'graver sections' of the Indian Penal Code were quashed against the accused and the trial was confined to offence under Section 304 (A), Soni said. The dilution of charges had ensured that the accused could be awarded only two years of maximum imprisonment.
The Cabinet decided that an appeal will be filed in the sessions court against the judgment of the trial court to correct the error in the sentences imposed on the accused under different sections of the IPC, Soni said.
The errors pertain to the term of imprisonment (Section 338), the amount of fine (Section 304A), and the direction that the sentences shall run concurrently. The attorney general will examine whether a curative petition could be filed in the Supreme Court for reconsideration of the compensation amount earlier settled at US $470 million, the minister said.
Appropriate applications will be filed before the courts concerned and requests will be made to the courts, especially the high court, to expeditiously decide the question of liability of Dow Chemicals Company and/ or any other successor to UCC/UCIL, she said. To repeated questions on who was liable for the tragedy, Soni said the attorney general will examine the issue.
"We have to wait for the AG's advice," she said. Asked whether any timeline has been set for the AG's advice, she replied in the negative but added that the "the sense of urgency is all around" and the AG will also submit his opinion in the shortest possible time.
Replying to questions, Secretary in the ministry of chemicals Bijoy Chatterjee, who was also present at the press conference, said there is a case for approaching the Supreme Court for review of its 1996 judgment.
Among other recommendations approved by the Cabinet was that the government will approach the Supreme Court to allow take over of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre through the department of bio-technology and the department of atomic energy.
The hospital should then be strengthened, up-graded and run as a super specialty and research hospital.
The Indian Council for Medical Research will establish its 31st full-fledged Research Centre in Bhopal within 90 days. The ICMR will also start conducting epidemiological studies and clinical research in areas identified by them, including respiratory diseases, eye-related diseases, cancer, total renal failure, genetic disorders, congenital disorders, women related medical issues and second generation children related medical issues.
The Madhya Pradesh government, which will have the responsibility of remediation actions, will suitably empower the department of gas tragedy, relief and rehabilitation, including granting enhanced financial powers and fixed tenure for officers, at least till December 31, 2012, so that the remediation and environmental clean-up is completed in a time-bound manner.
An oversight committee will be established in the ministry of environment and forests with representatives of the ministries/departments concerned of the central government and the government of Madhya Pradesh.
The oversight committee will provide oversight and support to Madhya Pradesh government in taking necessary remedial actions. The ministry of environment and forests will notify the oversight committee.