India should become a party in plea in U.S. against Dow, says Sushma

A TV grab of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, speaking in the House in New Delhi on Tuesday. — Photo: PTI

A TV grab of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, speaking in the House in New Delhi on Tuesday. — Photo: PTI  

She quotes from The Hindu that Rajiv was briefed on developments after Bhopal tragedy

Seeking a better deal for victims of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday asked the government to become a party to a petition filed in a United States court to obtain compensation from the American firm Dow Chemicals.

Initiating a debate on the tragedy in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj demanded that Parliament pass a resolution scrapping the 1989 out-of-court settlement between the government and Union Carbide that would strengthen the curative petition filed in the Supreme Court.

Describing the tragedy as a “case of corporate manslaughter” and not mere negligence, she accused the then Rajiv Gandhi government of allowing the former Union Carbide Corporation chief, Warren Anderson, to “escape.”

Ms. Swaraj suggested that the country should take a cue from the Rs. 90,000-crore compensation secured by the U.S. from British Petroleum for the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to strengthen the case in a U.S. court for more relief for the Bhopal victims.

“India should become a party in the suit filed by some NGOs [non-governmental organisations] from Bhopal in the New York South court to get “thousands of crores as compensation” from Dow Chemicals, which now owns the assets of Carbide.”

Taking on the government for Mr. Anderson's “escape” from the country and the government's claim that Rajiv Gandhi was unaware of the developments until Mr. Anderson left the country, Ms. Swaraj quoted extensively from a December 8, 1984, story by G.K. Reddy in The Hindu, that U.S. officials had spoken to the then Foreign Secretary regarding the arrest despite assurances of safe passage to Mr. Anderson, and that Rajiv Gandhi had been briefed on the matter.

Reading out from another report published in June last in The Hindu, Ms. Swaraj said the Group of Ministers (GoM), set up by this government, had made a “clumsy attempt to cover up” how Mr. Anderson left the country.

Pointing out that the victims were deceived at various levels by the government and the judiciary, she criticised the former Chief Justice, A.M. Ahmadi, for the judgment that limited the punishment for the accused to just two years. While a demand for Rs. 3,900-crore compensation was made, the government took only Rs. 615 crore in the 1989 settlement. Maintaining that 20,000 metric tonnes of chemicals and toxic waste material were still lying in the plant's site, Ms. Swaraj demanded it be “sent back to the U.S., where there are good incinerators to destroy them.”

Countering her, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari quoted the 1991 Supreme Court proceedings to say that the government had moved a U.S. court in 1985, which directed a year later that these cases should be filed in India.

He charged the BJP with “doing politics over the dead bodies.”

“It is an adjudicated figure by the Supreme Court and not an out-of-court settlement,” he said, adding that the $470 million compensation was arrived at on Supreme Court orders.

“If at all anybody had given an assurance, it is not on the records of the government. If any official had given any assurance, let it be on record of the government,” he said, challenging the Opposition to come up with proof to show Rajiv Gandhi's role in Mr. Anderson's departure.

He said Mr. Anderson was not named in the primary first information report registered in the tragedy, and that when he came to Bhopal without any assurance of a safe passage, he was arrested immediately.

However, Mr. Anderson obtained bail and then skipped it.

“Misuse of CBI”

Further, alleging that the Central Bureau of Investigation was being used to serve political ends, Ms. Swaraj said Mr. Anderson, the prime accused, was arrested and bailed out the same day, and taken in an official plane to Delhi to help him return to the U.S.

But when a Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act accused Sohrabuddin Sheikh is killed in an encounter, the same CBI loses no time in arresting a former Home Minister of a State, she said, evoking noisy protests from the Treasury Benches that led to a disruption for sometime.

The Leader of the Opposition said the Bhopal tragedy could have been averted if the then government had paid heed to the various warnings by workers, trade unions and the media about several accidents in the Carbide plant much before the disaster.

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