Victims will receive the utmost sympathy, says Chidambaram
The Group of Ministers (GoM) on Bhopal, which met on Friday, will work through the weekend and submit its report to the Cabinet on Monday, ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 10-day deadline. The mood at the meeting, sources said, was “that something should be done, and done quickly.”
The GoM's recommendations will be classified broadly under three heads — legal issues, compensation and remediation measures/disposal of waste. They will be first discussed “separately,” after which “a comprehensive view,” will be taken, Union Home Minister P. Chidamabaram heading the GoM told journalists.
He said: “We will give our best and most sympathetic consideration to all those people who have suffered as a result of this tragedy.”
The Union Ministries of Law, Health and Chemicals and Fertilizers – whose Ministers are members of the GoM — were the busiest in the run-up to the first meeting.
The Law Ministry prepared a note suggesting to the GoM that a curative petition be filed with the object of enhancing the punishment for the guilty. It also stressed the need to re-explore the possibility of extraditing the former Union Carbide chairman, Warren Anderson.
Simultaneously, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad called a series of meetings with health officials and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) representatives to acquaint himself with the studies done so far on the impact of toxic gases on children, pregnant women and the increased incidence of cancer in Bhopal, following the December 3, 1984 tragedy as well as the current status of hospitals treating gas victims.
At the GoM meeting, Bijoy Chatterjee, Secretary, Chemicals and Fertilizers (the department that will service the GoM) gave a detailed chronological account of the events that followed the Bhopal disaster.
This included everything that happened on the legal, compensation, remediation and medical fronts.
On the issue of remediation of the contaminated site and groundwater, Mr. Chatterjee mentioned the case pending against Dow Chemicals in the Jabalpur High Court, and the fact that 350 MT of toxic waste which was to be transported and incinerated at Ankleshwar in Gujarat, was still lying in Bhopal as the Gujarat government had refused permission.
He also said that three of CSIR's research institutes were carrying out studies for the environmental remediation of the UCIL plant site and they would submit reports this month.
The new sense of urgency was also demonstrated in the fact that hours before the GoM met, the Planning Commission sanctioned the Rs. 982 crore the Madhya Pradesh government had sought in late 2008 to deal with health and environment issues in Bhopal.
The Law Ministry note said the Centre's curative petition in the Supreme Court should seek reconsideration of the 1996 judgment reducing the offences against the accused into one of criminal negligence (IPC Section 304 A) from that of culpable homicide not amounting to murder (IPC Section 304 –II).
It also said fresh efforts to extradite Mr. Anderson could be made on the basis of the Bhopal court judgment and the evidence that emerged during the trial that established the culpability of the parent company both in defects in design of the plant as well in the maintenance and operations of UCIL, Bhopal.