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What transpired at the GoM meet on Bhopal

By Renu Mittal
June 21, 2010 23:20 IST
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The Group of Ministers headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram, after three-day long deliberations, submitted its report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday. The GoM was constituted by Dr Singh to make recommendations on relief, rehabilitation and remediation issues and legal options in the wake of the recent trial court judgment in the case.

Sources in the Congress say that the GoM has given a clean chit to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, claiming that he was unaware of the decision to let Union Carbide Corporation CEO Warren Anderson leave India and fly back to the United States.

The report, which was approved by the GOM on Monday, will be taken up for consideration in a special Cabinet meeting on June 25 before the PM leaves for his Canada visit.

Sources said that while the GOM found no records with the ministry of external affairs over the decision to let Anderson leave the country, it relied on a report written by senior journalist G K Reddy for the Hindu newspaper.

According to sources, the onus for Anderson's escape rests on then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh and then home minister P V Narasimha Rao.

The report in the daily claims that Rajiv Gandhi was not aware of the fact that Anderson had been assured of a safe passage and he was informed about the same by his then principal secretary P C Alexander some time before the UCC CEO left for the US.

The ministers in the GOM were careful when discussing Rajiv Gandhi's involvement as Madhya Pradesh minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Babu Lal Gaur, as well as a host of secretaries and officials, were present during the meetings, making it difficult to discuss the issue openly.

Aside from trying to downplay the controversy over Rajiv Gandhi's involvement, the GoM has focused on issues like compensation, clean-up, tightening laws, filing a curative petition and continuing to work on the extradition of Anderson.

On Monday, a 13-page report drawn up by Chidambaram was circulated to the members of the GoM. While a few corrections and changes were carried out, the bulk of the report was agreed to and passed. The report was "based on the discussions and conclusions arrived at in the last few days and left little to be changed or disagreed upon," said a union minister who was present in the meeting.

The Madhya Pradesh government has demanded a package of Rs 950 crore with Rs 500 crore as a corpus amount. The Centre may not agree to the corpus amount, say sources, adding that it has decided on a compensation package of Rs 1,300 crores. The GoM has decided on Rs 10 lakh for the families of the deceased victims, Rs 5 lakh for the permanently disabled, Rs 1 lakh for the injured, and Rs 2 lakh for those suffering from a disease due to the gas leak.

The government will shell out Rs 350 crore to clean up the contaminated area around the pesticide plant. This amount, along with financial, technical and other knowledge for the clean-up, will take place over the next three years. The government will continue to demand the compensation amount from Dow Chemicals, which has maintained that it has only bought the assets and not the liabilities of Union Carbide.

The government will also file a curative petition on the 1996 Judgment by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ahmedi, which diluted the charges against the UCC top brass.

The Congress is hopeful that the deliberations and outcome of the GOM will ensure that the outrage, provoked by the shocking judgment of the 26-year-long trial, will cool down.

The government will also seek to focus on the relief and rehabilitation of victims and framing better laws to deal with such man-made disasters.

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