After more than 25 years of apathy and callousness on the part of successive governments at the Centre, the decision of the Union Cabinet to enhance compensation to the victims of the Bhopal gas leak calamity, and carry out environmental remediation is a small step forward. Delays and denials have sapped the energy of the survivors fighting for justice. Nothing the government can ever do will come close to relieving them of suffering or making up for their losses. The Cabinet went by the recommendations of the Group of Ministers constituted to examine “all issues” relating to the calamity, including the extradition of 89-year-old Warren Anderson, ex-chairman of Union Carbide Corporation. According to the minutes of the meeting of the GoM, obtained by The Hindu and made available at www.thehindu.com, the GoM felt that, for practical reasons, the classification of claims and cases made by the Welfare Commissioner for Bhopal Gas Victims “would have to be accepted.” The numbers thus have no relation to those proposed by activists and non-governmental organisations. But within the old classification of death (5,295 persons), permanent disability (3,199), cases of cancer (about 2,000) and total renal failure (about 1,000), and temporary disability (33,672), the GoM went for enhanced compensation. The maximum amount is Rs.10 lakh, less the amount already paid, in the case of death, and the minimum is Rs. one lakh, less the amount already paid, in the case of temporary disability. After all these years and considering the enormity of the tragedy, these amounts seem pitiful recompense, small change indeed.
The GoM was perfectly aware that after what happened on December 7, 1984, there was virtually no chance of having Mr. Anderson extradited from the United States to face Indian justice. Nevertheless, it virtuously recommended that the Central Bureau of Investigation be directed to put together additional material in support of the extradition request. It is a shock to learn that the Ministry of External Affairs has no record of the Anderson visit. Relying on “contemporary media reports,” the GoM report offers the surmise that “he visited India on an oral assurance (it is not known by whom) of safe passage, and he left India presumably on the basis of that assurance.” It claims that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was briefed on “the matter” only after Mr. Anderson left the country. G.K. Reddy's authoritative Page 1 story in The Hindu of Saturday, December 8, 1984, reproduced on the opposite page and analysed separately in this issue, gives the lie to this piece of fiction. The retreat from a firm and just course of action — the sell-out of the interests of the victims witnessed on December 7, 1984 — is of a piece with what happened over the next quarter century.