The Group of Ministers (GoM) on Bhopal on Saturday decided to recommend to the Centre that it file afresh for extradition of the former Union Carbide chairman, Warren Anderson.
However, a point that emerged during the deliberations here may limit the legal options available to the government, sources told The Hindu. There is apparently some ambiguity over who owns the UCIL plant in Bhopal today, since the land on which its shell stands has reverted to the Madhya Pradesh government. Clarity on this point is crucial, the sources said, in establishing the liability of Dow Chemicals, which had purchased Union Carbide.
Government sources told The Hindu that the GoM was of the view that even though previous attempts to get Mr. Anderson extradited had failed, advantage should be taken of the new evidence that was recorded in the recently delivered Bhopal trial court judgment, as well as in the testimonies of witnesses who said Union Carbide's parent company in the U.S. had prior knowledge of both the faulty design and shortcomings in the maintenance and operations of the Bhopal plant that led to the December 3, 1984 gas leak.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who was present at the meeting, read out a factual note explaining the background of the previous attempts to secure the extradition of Mr. Anderson. In response to a question put to her at the GoM whether there was any truth in the former Foreign Secretary, M.K. Rasgotra's statement that the decision to give Mr. Anderson safe passage out of India was taken by the then Union Home Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, she said there was nothing on the records which could either “corroborate or contradict” Mr. Rasgotra's claim, the sources added.
At its morning session, the GoM focussed on the legal options available to it. “We discussed all pending legal issues and legal options available to the government after the judgment of the trial court,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who heads the reconstituted GoM, told journalists.
Apart from the discussion on extradition, the GoM decided to recommend to the government that a curative petition be filed in the Supreme Court to try and reverse its 1996 judgment, which extinguished criminal liability on the accused in the gas tragedy, so that the punishment could be enhanced; that the case against Dow Chemicals pending in the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur be pursued vigorously; and that the government appeal against the trial court judgment, seeking greater punishment for those convicted.
At the end of the second session, the sources said, the GoM decided to recommend strengthening of medical facilities: at present, there are seven dedicated hospitals for the victims (two superspeciality, two speciality and three general hospitals), nine day-care units and three Ayurvedic, three homoeopathic and three Unani dispensaries operating in the affected areas. The Indian Council of Medical Research, which has collated reports on the impact of the gas leak on pregnant women and children and established a population-based cancer registry in Bhopal, would also be asked to invite more proposals for further research among the affected population.
The GoM will meet again on Sunday to look at environmental issues, specifically what needs to be done for the remediation of the plant and to ensure supply of safe drinking water. On Monday, the GoM will take a comprehensive look before making its final recommendations to the Cabinet.