The Union Cabinet has approved all the 22 recommendations of the group of ministers (GoM) on Bhopal. Even as this ensures that Bhopal gets a total central package of Rs1,262 crore, the decision dashes the hopes of enhanced compensation for the bulk of the 5.74 lakh victims of the tragedy.
“The government has decided that only those who suffered serious injuries or deaths shall be entitled to enhanced ex gratia, and this number is 42,000. So, effectively, this means that there is no decision regarding the others,” said Bijoy Chatterjee, secretary, department of petrochemicals, at a briefing after the cabinet meeting.
He said the GoM had taken a detailed look at the Bhopal tragedy after the trial court’s verdict on June 7 that handed down just two years imprisonment to seven former officials of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) for the leakage of lethal methyl isocyanate from its plant in Bhopal in December 1984. The tragedy has claimed 20,000 lives.
The cabinet has also approved the GoM’s recommendation that two curative petitions be filed in the Supreme Court. The first, to be filed on the advice of the attorney general, will seek an enhancement of the compensation of $470 million from Union Carbide Corporation (the India firm’s parent company) and/or its corporate successor, Dow Chemicals. The second plea would seek to turn the charges against the accused from death due to negligence to culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which carries a prison term of up to 10 years.
“Everyone is aware of the seriousness of the matter involved, so the attorney general will give his recommendations at the earliest,” said Ambika Soni, union information and broadcasting minister, when asked how soon the petitions would be filed.
The government appears to be awaiting the outcome of a petition in the Madhya Pradesh high court about who should be held liable for cleaning up the toxic wastes at the UCIL’s plant.
When asked who is responsible, Soni merely said the query should be directed at home minister P Chidambaram, who refused to answer questions from the media. But Soni did say that pending the litigation, it was decided to go ahead with cleaning up the site and the responsibility for that has been given to the Madhya Pradesh government.
She said the Cabinet has also decided to give a go-ahead to prepare a case for extraditing Warren Anderson. But she refused to answer who should be held accountable for letting Anderson escape. “There was no reference to this issue in the recommendations of the GoM,” was her reply.