GoM for Bhopal tragedy yet to fulfil tasks, say survivors

By Shahnawaz Akhtar, IANS
Thursday, December 2, 2010

BHOPAL - The central government this year set up a group of ministers (GoM) for a second time to assuage the deep wounds of victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, but five months have passed and there has been little action, say survivors.

After the toxic gas leak on the night of Dec 2 and 3, 1984 - in which over 3,000 people were killed instantly and 25,000 more since - a GoM was set up by the government in 1991. Its last meeting was held in June 2008. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a member of that GoM.

The new GoM was set up after a June 7 verdict on the gas tragedy by a city court caused national outrage. It held seven officials of the Union Carbide plant and the company itself guilty of criminal negligence for the 1984 gas disaster and sentenced them to two years in jail and imposed a fine of Rs.100,000. But the guilty were bailed out within minutes, prompting survivors and activists to call it a mockery of justice.

“The GoM was the only thing that the centre had done for survivors of the Bhopal tragedy but its work also did not reach victims,” Rachna Dhingra of the NGO Bhopal Group for Information and Action told IANS.

Led by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the current GoM has 10 ministers. They held a meeting June 18-19, 2010 at New Delhi and identified 21 tasks for urgent action.

It includes disbursement of additional compensation of Rs.739 crore, filing of curative petitions in the Supreme Court against the judgments in February-May 1989 and in October 1991.

In the February-May 1989 judgments, a $470 million settlement had been pronounced by the Supreme Court, which also quashed criminal charges against Warren Anderson and the Indian accused.

In the 1991 judgment, criminal charges were reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Among the other tasks identified by the GoM were submission of additional material in support of extradition of Warren Anderson (31.7.2010), filing of a curative petition in the Supreme Court against the 1996 judgment (31.7.2010) and filing of the revision application in the high court against trial court judgment (31.7.2010).

In the 1996 judgement, the Supreme Court had diluted charges against Indian officials of Union Carbide.

Five months after the GoM was formed, while the central government has sanctioned the amount, the process of disbursement of additional compensation has not even started, says the NGO.

In the matter of filing a curative petition in the Supreme Court, the plea has not been filed; even if it does get filed, the government has no strategy to enforce the decisions of Indian courts on Union Carbide, which no longer has any property in India, and make it pay damages, says the Bhopal Group for Information and Action .

With regard to the extradition of Anderson, who was the Union Carbide chief when the tragedy occurred, no new requests have been filed with the State Department and the Department of Justice in the US, points out the NGO.

A curative petition has been filed against the 1996 judgement but no step has been taken to hasten the pace of the case.

The condition is more or less the same in all other tasks outlined by the GoM, says the NGO.

Except tasks like remediation of the Union Carbide site, which was to be completed by 2012, every other task identified by the GoM was to be accomplished quickly and the responsibilities of various departments, ministers, agencies had also been clearly outlined.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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