Chidambaram: successive governments failed to address gas tragedy victims issue

“NDA government itself opined that request for extradition of Anderson was misconceived”

Sparks flew and pandemonium prevailed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday with UPA and Opposition members clashing on who was responsible for the plight of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims and who helped the former chairman of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), Warren Anderson, to escape to the United States.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram agreed that successive governments at the Centre (since the December 1984 tragedy) had failed to address the issue with the seriousness it deserved and said the present UPA-II government had included some more information to make the case stronger and the charges grave for the extradition of Anderson from the U.S.

At one point, Mr. Chidambaram, who was replying to the debate on the Bhopal gas tragedy, blamed the previous NDA regime of “unfortunately derailing Anderson's extradition proceedings.”

Though he did not reply to the BJP members queries on who was responsible for the escape of Mr. Anderson after his release on bail, post his arrest on December 7, 1984, via. Delhi, Mr. Chidambaram indeed conveyed to the gas victims and their families that the government “acknowledged with a sense of guilt” their “grief and sorrow.”

He said he would set right things to the best of his ability and “we will try to do things which we did not do earlier” for the gas victims. Wondering why the successive governments at the Centre had failed to take remedial measures in the 25-year-old case, he said: “We have made the mistakes, we will try to correct them as far as possible.”

On Mr. Anderson's extradition, Mr. Chidambaram said that though the CBI sent the proposal for his extradition in September 1993 by including grave charges under Section 304 (ii) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of IPC, no action was taken till 2001. Later, when the then NDA government consulted a U.S. law firm, it opined that the extradition request was misconceived and no charge could be sustained against Mr. Anderson. The then Attorney-General too gave a similar opinion. The then Law Minister (Arun Jaitley) too said “grave charges against Mr. Anderson could not be sustained” and case could only be under Section 304(A) of the IPC — causing death due to rash and negligent act. However, the CBI was firm that the charges could be only under 304 (ii) and it was continuing to press for Mr. Anderson's extradition.

On Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj's allegation that the UPA government was misusing the CBI in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case in Gujarat, whereas foreigners (Mr. Anderson) were getting royal treatment from the government, Mr. Chidambaram reminded her that it was the ruling BJP government in Gujarat which accepted that Sohrabuddin's killing was a fake encounter and handed over the probe to the CID. The State CID even arrested 14 persons in the case. Later, the Supreme Court, which transferred the case to the CBI, and the UPA government had nothing to do with it. If the BJP alleged that the CBI was not doing a fair job then “you are charging against the Supreme Court” and this accusation was “the most outrageous attack on the judiciary and the CBI.” This was the worst allegation ever made.

On the Opposition's demand for a probe into the killing of senior Maoist leader Azad, allegedly in a fake encounter, Mr. Chidambaram said the incident related to the Andhra Pradesh police and he could not order any inquiry.

Mr. Chidambaram gave details of the decisions taken by the government — hiking the compensation to be paid to the families of those killed in the gas tragedy to Rs.10 lakh, setting up hospitals exclusively for the victims and their families for the life time, extradition of Mr. Anderson, and remediation procedure for the toxic wastes in the plant.

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