The preliminary agenda being drawn up by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals for the reconstituted Group of Ministers (GoM) on Bhopal, government sources said, will include an examination of the existing BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh government's record in dealing with the after-effects of the 1984 gas tragedy.
The sources said the subjects — for which papers will be circulated by Wednesday for Friday's meeting — would “encompass all issues in the public domain.”
Apart from the critical questions of relief, rehabilitation, health and waste management issues, three items are likely to be put on the agenda: the fate of an Empowered Commission to oversee all gas disaster-related expenditure, an idea already rejected by the Madhya Pradesh government; the State government's request for an additional Rs. 982 crore for the social and economic rehabilitation of the victims; and finally, the pending case in the Jabalpur High Court on who should pay for sanitisation of the defunct Carbide plant and its environs.
In April 2008, during the United Progressive Alliance government's first term, the Arjun Singh-headed GoM accepted the suggestion made by NGOs that an Empowered Commission monitor all gas tragedy-related expenditure. The Union Cabinet ratified the GoM's suggestion, but it came to nothing as the Madhya Pradesh government saw it as an infringement of its powers.
Instead, late in 2008, it drew up an Action Plan for the rehabilitation of the victims and asked the Centre to fork out an additional Rs. 982 crore. The response was a list of questions, asking the Madhya Pradesh government to give an account of the money already spent and the efficacy of its action. The proposal is still pending with the Planning Commission.
Gaur hits out at BJP
The UPA's efforts to set up an Empowered Commission and its demand for scrutiny of past expenditure could have been read as an effort by the Centre to put a BJP government in a spot, sources said. But on Tuesday, Babulal Gaur, senior BJP leader and Minister for Gas Relief and Rehabilitation in the State government (and a former Chief Minister), hit out at his own party, saying that when the NDA government was in power at the Centre, it was “totally apathetic” to the problems of the victims.
Mr. Gaur, who will represent the Madhya Pradesh government in the reconstituted GoM, said in Bhopal that all governments at the Centre, including those led by the BJP, had been indifferent to the victims. He said he would raise the issue of getting the remaining 20 wards of Bhopal declared gas-affected — an idea that was accepted, he stressed, by the Arjun Singh-headed GoM — and of raising the compensation to make it on a par with what was given to victims in the United States.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that the GoM could also consider giving the victims fresh compensation similar to that provided to victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots under a special budgetary provision.
Vinay Kumar reports:
Asked if extradition of the former Union Carbide chief, Warren Anderson would be part of Friday's discussion, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who heads the reconstituted, nine-member GoM, said he had no idea of the nature of deliberations.
“I have no idea. Let us see what papers are circulated by the Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals. They have promised to circulate papers by Wednesday. Let us see what issues are raised by them.
And then we will decide whether any additional issues are to be addressed,'' he said here on Tuesday.