As our front page story notes, the Group of Minister's conclusion that “contemporary media reports also indicate that the Prime Minister, Shri Rajiv Gandhi, was briefed on the matter after Mr. Anderson left the country” is factually incorrect.
Assuming that G.K. Reddy's reports in The Hindu (especially his front page story of December 8, 1984) are part of the “contemporary media reports” referred to by the GoM, its conclusion is either a careless misreading of the reports or, more likely, a clumsy attempt at a cover-up.
The irony is that in attempting to provide Rajiv Gandhi with an unnecessary alibi for one of the many sideshows of the gas tragedy — how Union Carbide Corporation chief Warren Anderson came to be arrested and released so quickly on December 7, 1984 — the GoM will likely ensure the late Congress leader and Prime Minister remains at the centre of political controversy.
The Hindu's editions of December 8 and 9, 1984 indicate that attempts to cover up the truth about the arrest began on the very day he was jailed and then released. G.K. Reddy writes: “After the Central government's intervention, it was stated that Mr. Anderson and others were only taken into protective custody and lodged in the company's guest house to save them from mob violence.”
On December 9, The Hindu carried a Bhopal dateline report from UNI and PTI showing that the cover up had been extended to include Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh. The report says that in a press conference, Mr. Singh denied the Prime Minister was consulted in connection with the arrest and release of Mr. Anderson, though he was “informed”. “The Central government was not in the picture at all,” he said. The Times of India on December 9 carried a similar report about Mr. Singh making the contradictory claim that the Prime Minister was “informed”, but not “consulted”.
The Hindu's December 8 report also brings into question the GoM claim that “there are no records in the Ministry of External Affairs of his visit or who he met on his visit”. Mr. Reddy's report says that the “Cabinet Secretary called a meeting of senior officials from External Affairs, Home, Petroleum and Chemicals and Law Ministries to examine all these aspects, before some of them met Mr. Anderson later tonight.” It is unlikely that a meeting of this kind devoted to dealing with the UCC chief would have produced no paper work.
A Hindustan Times report of December 10 also throws doubts on the GoM's claim of there being no MEA records. It says that the Ministry actually issued a statement about the cancellation of a press meeting with Mr. Anderson on December 9.
Another curious discrepancy between the Group of Minister's report and the record as established by The Hindu at the time surrounds the provisions of the Indian Penal Code under which Mr. Anderson was arrested. The GoM report notes in paragraph 16 that an FIR was registered at the Hanumanganj police station on December 3, 1984 against Carbide officials which mentioned only Section 304-A (gross negligence) and no other section. But the reports by G.K. Reddy and PTI note that Mr. Anderson and others “were arrested” as soon as they landed in Bhopal from Bombay “under seven different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Sections are: 120B (criminal conspiracy), 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 304A (causing death by negligence), 426 (mischief), 429 (mischief in the killing of livestock), 278 (making atmosphere noxious to health), and 284 (negligent conduct in respect of poisonous substances)”.
In fact the bond which Mr. Anderson signed in Bhopal prior to his release also noted:
“I have been arrested by Hanumanganj Police Station, District Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India under Criminal Sections 304 A, 304, 120 B, 278, 429, 426 & 92. I am signing this bond for Rs. 25,000/- and thus undertaking to be present whenever and wherever I am directed to be present by the police or the Court”.
Since Section 304 is a ‘non-bailable offence', i.e. bail can only be granted by a judge and not on the basis of a bond, were legal corners also cut to ensure Mr. Anderson was released immediately? The prior grant of safe passage meant he should never have been arrested in the first place. This is why Reddy writes of the “deplorable lack of coordination” between the Central and State governments. Instead of using its privileged access to official records to clarify these secondary issues once and for all, the GoM's efforts are likely to invite charges of a cover-up.