Rs 1,500 crore package for Bhopal victims

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Rs 1,500 crore package for Bhopal victims
Clean chit to Rajiv Gandhi


New Delhi, June 21

While recommending a Rs.1500 crore relief package for those affected by the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, the Group of Ministers (GOM) looking into all aspects of the industrial disaster today gave late Rajiv Gandhi a clean chit for his role in the release of Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson.

In the absence of official records, the GOM based its conclusion on “contemporary media reports”, particularly a news story by late G.K.Reddy of The Hindu, which said that Rajiv Gandhi was informed about Anderson’s release after he had left the country.



Reports about how Anderson was flown out of Bhopal in a state government plane a few days after the gas leak have led to a heated controversy with several officials and political leaders involved with the decision making processes, suggesting that Rajiv Gandhi was consulted by then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh about Anderson’s release.

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told the GOM that there were no official records on the arrest and release of Warren Anderson when she was questioned then foreign secretary M.K.Rasgotra’s controversial disclosures.“There is nothing on record to corroborate or contradict Rasgotra’s statement,”she replied. Rasgotra had said that the home ministry, under P V Narasimha Rao, had assured "safe passage" to Anderson before he came to India after the gas leakage.

Faced with mounting public outrage over the handling of the the world’s worst industrial disaster, the GOM went into an overdrive to dispel the widespread perception that the government was insensitive to the plight of the Bhopal gas victims.

In its report submitted to Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh today, the GOM headed by home minister P.Chidambaram recommended Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of the dead, Rs 5 lakh for the permanently disabled and Rs 3 lakh for those disabled partially.

An allocation of Rs. 350 crore has also been sought for cleaning up the toxic waste at the derelict factory site.While one million tonne tarred waste will be buried at the site in an underground cavern for which the government will float a global tender, another 350 metric tonnes will be incinerated at a facility in Pithampur near Indore.The factory structure will be decontaminated and then brought down. The GOM has suggested that the GOM headed by home minister P.Chidambaram recommended Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of the dead, Rs 5 lakh for the permanently disabled and Rs 3 lakh for those disabled partially.

An allocation of Rs. 350 crore has also been sought for cleaning up the toxic waste at the derelict factory site.While one million tonne tarred waste will be buried at the site in an underground cavern for which the government will float a global tender, another 350 metric tonnes will be incinerated at a facility in Pithampur near Indore.The factory structure will be decontaminated and then brought down. The GOM has suggested that a memorial, estimated at a cost of Rs.100 crore, be set up at the site. An oversight committee,comprising environmental experts and scientists, will be set up to monitor the clean-up.

The expenditure for the clean-up will be borne by the Centre while the Madhya Pradesh government will be in charge of the operations. UPA sources said the money provided by the government will be without prejudice to the ongoing case in the Jabalpur High Court seeking an initial corpus of Rs.100 crore from Dow Chemicals as its liability for clearing the waste. Dow, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, has challenged this,saying it never owned or operated the Bhopal factory.

The ministerial panel has also asked the government to make fresh efforts for the extradition of Warren Andeson though it was informed by the foreign secretary that its previous petitions were rejected on grounds of insuffiicent evidence. The GOM felt India has a strong case in the light of the fresh evidence thrown up during the court hearing in Bhopal in which several witnesses said Union Carbide was aware of the low safety and maintenance standards at the UCIL factory.

The panel has suggested the government file a curative petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the apex court’s 1996 order diluting the charges against the culprits from culpable homicide to criminal negligence.

Following complains of poor health facilities for those affected by the gas leak, the panel has suggested the Centre’s department of biotechnology take over the Bhopal Memorial Trust Hospital established after the aftermath of the tragedy exclusively for the disaster victims. Facilities at the hospital, to be run with assistance of Tata Memorial Hospital, are to be upgraded while the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) is to set up a full-fledged centre in Bhopal within 90 days. The GOM report will be considered by the Cabinet in a special meeting on Friday.
 
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