The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday announced the re-constitution of a Group of Ministers, headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram, to handle the country-wide fall-out of the verdict in the Bhopal gas leak case.
But the inclusion of Road Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath in the GoM has outraged victims of the tragedy. The minister has a 'vested interest' in the case, according to Gopal Krishna, an activist from Toxic Watch Alliance.
During the last few years, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kamal Nath have taken up the brief of the accused companies in the case.
According to the government's announcement, the GoM also includes Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, Law Minister Veerappa Moily, Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers M K Alagiri, Minister for Urban Development Jaipal Reddy, Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chauhan, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Tourism Kumari Selja. It also includes as a permanent invitee -- the MP minister in charge of compensation to the victims.
Kamal Nath has represented Chindwara constituency in Madhya Pradesh in Parliament since 1980. In 2009, he got elected to the Lok Sabha for the eighth time.
However, he is frequently criticised over his support for rich industrialists and their causes in Madhya Pradesh. The victims of the gas leak, who are not his direct voters, have a grouse against Kamal Nath because he advocated a softer stand against Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide in 2001.
In February 2007, Kamal Nath even wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the matter.
In the letter, he said that Dow Chemicals should not be asked to deposit Rs 100 crore as requested in the court case in Bhopal, and mentioned that industrialist Ratan Tata agreed with him over the issue.
The PM's announcement claims that the GoM will, "look into the various aspects of compensation and criminal liability in the context of the disappointing results of the 26-year-old Bhopal gas leak case."
The announcement in itself will be welcomed by the nation which has felt slighted by the collective failure to secure justice within the country for the victims of the gas leak. But the GoM's credibility is already under a cloud due to the inclusion of Kamal Nath.
At least 15,000 people were killed and thousands of others maimed when a poisonous gas leaked from a pesticide plant, owned by Union Carbide, in Bhopal on the night of December 2, 1984.
On Monday, former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra and six others were found guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment. However, they were freed on bail on the very same day.
The prime accused, former UCC chief executive officer Warren Anderson, was not even mentioned in the judgment, which has been criticised severely by the victims and social activists.
The GoM is expected to look into likely changes in law in terms of criminal liability and compensation for victims of such disasters.
Kamal Nath, who played a 'dubious' role, will be opposed by social activists fighting for stronger laws to protect victims, not the supplier companies or companies which operate such hazardous plants.
Toxic Watch Alliance activist Krishna demanded that Dr Singh should come clean on the issue.