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GoM on Bhopal Gas Tragedy recommends enhanced compensation

NetIndian News Network

New Delhi, June 21, 2010

The reconstituted Group of Ministers (GoM) on the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy is today understood to have recommended an enhanced compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of each of those killed in the world's worst ever industrial disaster.

The GoM, which finalised its report at a meeting this morning before submitting it to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is learnt to have recommended a Rs 1500 crore package in this regard, which also provides for Rs 5 lakh for those permanently disabled or suffering from critical ailments and Rs 3 lakh for those who have been partially debilitated.

The enhanced compensation will be paid after deducting the amounts already given to the victims earlier, official sources said.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, who heads the GoM, said the Prime Minister had indicated to him yesterday that the report would be considered by a special meeting of the Union Cabinet on June 25.

He told mediapersons after today's meeting that the GoM's immediate focus now was on bringing relief to those who had suffered as a result of the "ghastly tragedy". He said there were still thousands of people who continued to suffer due to the gas leak and the Union Government was "extremely sympathetic" to their plight.

"We have dealt with all issues, compensation, legal issues, including the issue of pursuing the extradition of (then Union Carbide Chairman) Warren Anderson, the legal options available to the government of India and, most importantly, remediation matters and health and health-related matters," he said.

"We think we have made significant recommendations. The GoM is not over. It will continue to address issues as and when they come up," he said.

Mr Chidambaram said the GoM had identified about half a dozen residuary issues that will be taken up by it in its future meetings.

Sources said the GoM's report also included a recommendaiton on filing a curative petition in the Supreme Court against the dilution of charges against those accused in the case.

The GoM's report also deals with disposal of the toxic waste at the site of the disaster, the sources said.

The reconstituted GoM, set up to look into all aspects of the December 2, 1984 tragedy, held its first meeting here on Friday and met again twice on Saturday and held one session yesterday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier this month reconstituted the GoM and put Mr Chidambaram in charge. Last week, he had directed the GoM to meet immediately and submit its report to the Cabinet within 10 days as questions continued to be raised in the media and by the Opposition about the then Congress government's handling of the tragedy.

The GoM was originally set up during the first term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government and was headed by Human Resource Minister Arjun Singh. It was meant to go into a range of issues, including the relief and rehabilitation of the victims and their families.

Apart from Mr Chidambaram, the other members of the GoM are Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily, Urban Development Minister S Jaipal Reddy, Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja, Fertilisers and Chemicals Minister M K Alagiri, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan.

Madhya Pradesh's minister in-charge of rehabilitation is a permanent invitee to the GoM.

More than 25 years after the tragedy, which claimed thousands of lives, seven of those accused in the case were convicted and sentenced to two years of imprisonmnent on June 7 in a verdict that attracted widespread criticism from social activists, political parties and survivors of the tragedy.

The seven persons convicted by Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari were then Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) Chairman Keshub Mahindra, then UCIL Managing Director Vijay Gokhale, then UCIL Vice-President Kishore Kamdar, then Works Manager J Mukund, Production Manager S P Chaudhury, Plant Superintendent K V Shetty, and Production Assistant S I Qureshi.

Apart from being sentenced to undergo two years of imprisonment with a fine of Rs 1 lakh under section 304A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); three months of imprisonment and fine of Rs. 250 under section 336 IPC; six months of imprisonment with fine of Rs. 500 under section 337 IPC; and one year of imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 1000 under section 338 IPC.

The eighth convict, UCIL, has been fined with Rs. 5 lakhs under section 304 A IPC and Rs. 250, Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 respectively under sections 336, 337 and 338 IPC.

In all, a criminal case was registered against twelve accused persons/companies in the case.

The tragedy occurred on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984 when methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the UCIL factory in Bhopal. Apart from killing thousands, the leak affected several thousand more, many of whom are suffering the effects of the exposure to the deadly gas till today.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in its chargesheet filed on December 1, 1997, said that, apart from proximate reasons, there were a number of design defects and other criminally negligent operational practices which resulted in the gas leak and that these were in the knowledge of the management and were deliberately ignored for commercial reasons.

Among those against whom the case was filed was Mr Andersen. The court had declared him as an absconder. A request for his extradition remains unexecuted and he never returned to face trial in India.

Among the questions being raised now are why Mr Anderson, who had come to Bhopal after the gas leak, had been allowed to leave Bhopal and then India by the then Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and at the Centre.

This has led to much speculation about the role of Mr Arjun Singh, who was then the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, and the late Mr Rajiv Gandhi, who had then just taken over as Prime Minister barely a month ago after the assassination of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said some days ago that Mr Arjun Singh had taken the decision to allow Mr Anderson to leave Bhopal due to law and order concerns in the aftermath of the disaster.

NNN