We reproduce without comment some revealing reports that appeared in The Times of India and The Pioneer because of their significance in the wake of local court verdict on Bhopal gas tragedy.
Members of GoM on Bhopal pleaded Dow case in UPA-I
TNN, Jun 11, 2010, 03.25am IST
NEW DELHI: The uproar over the Bhopal gas-leak judgment has put the role of several UPA ministers and functionaries, including those in the newly reconstituted group of ministers (GoM), under scrutiny yet again.
While the UPA might have decided to set up the GoM as a facesaver in the midst of public outcry, making Home Minister P Chidambaram the head of the group and including Minister of Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath as member, could lead to controversy since both have drawn flak for advocating along with others that Dow Chemicals, the American giant that bought Union Carbide in 2001, be spared the task of cleaning up the 1984 gas-leak site and the contaminated ground water.
In June 2007, TOI had reported how key officials and ministers in the first term of UPA pushed for absolving Dow Chemicals of any legal and compensation liabilities after the multinational showed reluctance to invest in India unless the Rs 100 crore notice slapped by the fertilizers and chemicals ministry for clean up of the industrial site against it was withdrawn.
Those who supported the US company included then Finance Minister P Chidambaram, then Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, then cabinet secretary, B K Chaturvedi and India’s then envoy to US Ronen Sen. Prime Minister’s principal secretary T K A Nair was also involved in the discussions.
All these Congress luminaries and senior officials recommended that Dow’s liability be resolved outside the courts after business tycoon Ratan Tata suggested that instead of asking Dow to cough up the money to clean the site, the private sector in India, led by Tatas, could set up a fund to do the same.
Tata had pointed out in a letter to Ahluwalia and Chidambaram that Dow would not invest in India unless Rs 100-crore notice slapped on it by chemicals and fertilizers ministry was withdrawn. Chidambaram and Ahluwalia concurred with Tata and recommended to PMO that the Tata offer be accepted. This would have ensured an out-of-court settlement, paving the way for Dow’s investments in a petrochemical hub in India.
But an obstacle was put in their path after activists, citing the TOI report, resorted to protests, saying that the move would absolve Dow of any responsibility to compensate those who were affected by the contamination of groundwater in the aftermath of the gas leak.
Pursuing its case, Dow also got in touch with the principal secretary to the PM, T K A Nair. Significantly, the correspondence between Dow and Nair also suggests that the US company discussed its plan to engage Congress spokesman, senior SC lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Singhvi’s advice tracked the position taken by ministers, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and the cabinet secretary that Dow could not be held responsible for the disaster or was liable for any contamination and consequent cleaning up of the Bhopal site. This advice found its way into the PMO file on the issue later.
Under renewed attack from activists, Singhvi on June 10 reacted claiming his advice had “nothing to do either with Warren Anderson’s criminal conviction or with Bhopal gas tragedy”.
Arjun Singh let honcho flee Bhopal
IN the midst of countrywide outrage against the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict, the Madhya Pradesh Government has decided to appeal against the judgement even as the then Bhopal Collector, Moti Singh, has revealed that he was told by the then State Chief Secretary to bail out Union Carbide Corporation chairman Warren Anderson, who was arrested in Bhopal four days after the tragedy.
Expressing dissatisfaction over the way the CBI handled the case, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan told mediapersons that his Government would challenge the Bhopal court verdict in the high court. A committee of legal experts has been constituted to go into the issue, he said.
Chouhan wondered why the CBI did not file a review petition in the Supreme Court when it diluted the charges from 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) to Section 304-A (causing death by negligence). The Chief Minister accused the CBI of being not serious in pursuing the case of Anderson’s extradition. Senior advocate Shantilal Lodha, who is also one of the members of the legal team formed to review the case, told The Pioneer that the State Government being the representative of the people, it can file an appeal against any judgement. He clarified that even an individual can appeal in the higher court. He stated that almost all the aspects of the tragedy and what were the mistakes made earlier would be reviewed.
But the story of the day was the revelation by Moti Singh who made a sensational disclosure that he was asked by the Chief Secretary to release Anderson and help him leave Bhopal.
Singh admitted that the Arjun Singh Government had actively helped Anderson to escape law. He said, “I was summoned by Chief Minister Arjun Singh to his residence at 8 am that day. The CM told me that Warren Anderson would be arriving shortly at the airport; however, the airport officials have been instructed not to let his plane land till the District Collector is present. On this, I immediately rushed to the airport, but by the time I arrived the plane had already landed but its door was yet to be opened. I was told that Anderson was being accompanied by the Union Carbide’s chief of India operations Keshub Mahindra and managing director Vijay Gokhale.”
Singh said that they were arrested as soon as they set foot in Bhopal. All the three were then taken to the Shyamala Hills guest house of Union Carbide; Anderson was wearing a mask, Singh remembered adding, subsequently the Bhopal police filed a criminal case against him under Section 304 of the IPC at Hanumangunj police station.
“Then at 2 pm, the then Chief Secretary Brahmswaroop called me and SP Swaraj Puri to his office. He told us to release Anderson and put him in the same plane waiting at the airport to go to Delhi. Accordingly, we went to the place where he was lodged. We completed the formalities of granting him bail. “We quickly arranged for a Union Carbide employee to secure his bail for a surety of Rs 25,000. Later, we put him on the same plane at the airport,” he added.
Singh said Anderson was not willing to leave Bhopal. Instead, he wanted to visit the affected areas. “I told him repeatedly, you are not welcome, you have to leave Bhopal.” The former Collector said during his short stay, Anderson seemed casual and showed ‘symptoms of arrogance’ but toned down when he was told that he was being released.
Anderson blame game begins: It’s Cong vs Cong
TNN, Jun 11, 2010, 01.34am IST
THE dramatic release of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson just hours after his arrest has roiled Congress, sparking a bitter factional war which threatens to claim former PM Rajiv Gandhi as its collateral victim.
AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh on June 10, stunned party circles by virtually holding the Centre responsible for the controversial decision to let off Anderson, soon after he was arrested for the death of thousands from the poisonous gas leak from Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant.
“The whole case was dealt with by the Government of India and the Supreme Court. State government hardly had any role to play in this case,” Singh said in a text message he sent to reporters here from the US. In another text message to reporters, he desisted from fixing the blame. Singh wrote, “I was campaigning during that period therefore I don’t know. But I am sure it must have been under US pressure.”
However, read along with his other message, even the second message appeared to point the finger towards the Centre. More so, because with a strong PM like Rajiv Gandhi around, Americans could not have dealt directly with the state government.
Singh’s remarks were seen as rebutting the statement of CWC member Satyavrat Chaturvedi on June 9, that Arjun Singh, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh at the time of the leak, needed to explain Anderson’s abrupt release. Rajiv Gandhi was the PM at the time of the Bhopal tragedy.
A gleeful BJP pounced on the fratricidal slugfest, demanding an apology from Congress for giving “safe passage” to Anderson.
The unrolling episode also dragged Arjun Singh into the spotlight after a long spell on the sidelines. The ailing leader, who was passed over by the leadership for important positions, met Sonia Gandhi on June 10, evening. This was his second meeting with the Congress chief since a court verdict handed paltry punishments to those held guilty for the gas leak.
The bickering has factional dyanmics. Like Arjun and Digvijay, Chaturvedi is also from Madhya Pradesh and has a long history of strained equations with the two Thakurs. Unlike Digvijay and Arjun, whose ties have ebbed and flowed, Chaturvedi has been consistent about his feelings.