Prime Minister convenes special Cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss GoM report

A road map to address the legal, medical, humanitarian, environmental and other aspects of the Bhopal gas leak disaster was presented on Monday by the Group of Ministers (GoM) to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He has called a special Cabinet meeting for June 25 to discuss the report.

The GoM recommends a Rs. 1,500-crore package for the victims (Rs. 1,320 crore from the Centre and Rs. 180 crore from the Madhya Pradesh government), enhancing the compensation for the kin of the dead to Rs. 10 lakh, for the permanently disabled to Rs. 5 lakh and for the temporarily disabled to Rs. 1 lakh. It has also recommended that those stricken with cancer and other serious ailments be given Rs. 2 lakh. However, previous handouts will be deducted from the amount payable.

Though the GoM kept its eyes trained on trying to remedy 26 years of neglect through four days of deliberations, its members were equally concerned that the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's name should be kept out of the controversy surrounding the former Union Carbide chairman, Warren Anderson's exit from India.

Informed sources said “contemporary news reports” on the tragedy were cited in the GoM report to demonstrate that Rajiv Gandhi, who was away campaigning for the elections, was unaware of the assurance given to Mr. Anderson that he would not be arrested if he came to India to inspect the disaster site.

Interestingly, the news report referred to was written by the legendary former Political Correspondent of TheHindu, G.K. Reddy. His name does not find mention in the GoM report, but the fact that he was the author was brought to the attention of the GoM members.

Emerging from the final meeting, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who heads the GoM, told journalists that “significant recommendations ….to bring relief to those people who had suffered as a result of the ghastly tragedy” were made. The GoM would continue to supervise the government policy on the tragedy. “We will continue to address issues as and when they come up.”

Takeover of hospital

In keeping with the new hands-on approach, the GoM recommended the takeover of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) by the Department of Biotechnology and Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital (which deals exclusively with cancer patients).

The GoM feels it should take advantage of the fact that the BMHRC went to the Supreme Court some time ago, seeking either a larger corpus or else takeover by the Centre.

Simultaneously, it suggested that a full-fledged unit of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) be set up in Bhopal within 90 days.

The GoM recommended the floating of a global tender for companies to clear one million tonnes of toxic waste, to decontaminate and pull down the structure at the Union Carbide India Limited factory site. The waste will not be transported, but sealed in a concrete cavern underground. An Oversight Committee, consisting of experts, will be set up by the Centre to monitor the progress of the clean-up of the site.

Rs. 300 cr. for clean-up

A sum of Rs. 300 crore required for the clean-up operation will be paid by the Centre, but it will continue to pursue the case against Dow Chemical in the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur.

The report also recommended fresh steps for extradition of Mr. Anderson and the filing of a curative petition in the Supreme Court to secure enhanced punishment for the guilty.