Arjun Singh prevaricates; Sushma rambles
Posted August 16, 2010on:
The only tangible outcome of the debate on the Bhopal gas leak disaster in Parliament was that Arjun Singh got an opportunity to show his skullduggery by adroitly insinuating that Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson was allowed to fly to the safety from the Indian courts on the directions of the Home Ministry then headed by P.V.Narasimha Rao, Arjun Singh’s bête noire in the Congress politics.
Going by Arjun Singh’s version of the events, then Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rajiv Gandhi was such a novice that he could not decide what to do when Singh told him about Anderson; it was, therefore, left to Narasimha Rao, never known for taking prompt decisions and also not in the list of the confidants of Rajiv Gandhi at the time, to take the momentous decision about releasing Anderson. If that be true, it must be the only important decision Narasimha Rao had taken in his entire life. Arjun Singh did not elaborate if the instructions for treating Anderson as the most honoured State guest and providing him the State plane had also come from Narasimha Rao’s ministry.
It obviously came as a disappointment to the BJP which had sought the discussion in the hope of getting some ammunition against Arjun Singh and Rajiv Gandhi. It came as a greater disappointment to the lakhs of gas leak survivors and their sympathasisers who were expecting some concrete decisions from the highest decision-making body of the country. The entire debate virtually bogged down about Anderson’s release. Important though it is, the issues which are directly affecting the survivors were hardly touched.
No less important than the royal treatment of Anderson was the colossus bungling in the relief and rehabilitation of the survivors. Some projects for the economic rehabilitation of the survivors were started in the years following the tragedy and all these projects were closed down one by one. The remaining few projects providing some means of livelihood to the gas affected women were wound up by the BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa. Not only that, the Patwa government, and later the Congress government of Digvijay Singh, did not care for the 1991 Supreme Court directive for providing group insurance cover to the children who were born just before or immediately after the December 2-3,1984 gas leak disaster.
The BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chauhan had, in fact, gone a step further by announcing that the dependants (that is, the children) of the gas affected people would not be eligible for medical facilities in the hospitals and dispensaries run by the Bhopal gas leak disaster rehabilitation and relief department. The notification was withdrawn only after a massive protest against the government decision.
The survivors suffering from a host of ailments are not receiving proper medical attention though crores of rupees have been spent in the name of their medical rehabilitation. The hospitals and dispensaries specially started for the gas victims are ill-equipped. The medicines purchased in bulk for the gas victims were sold in the black market in Madhya Pradesh and outside. The NGOs working for the survivors have intercepted the truckloads of such medicines being diverted and reported the matter to the authorities including the Lokayukta. The compensation claims were settled after taking money from the survivors. This had been brought to the notice of the Bhopal Gas Relief Commissioner (a High Court judge appointed as such) and also the Supreme Court – but all in vain.
Following the October 1991 Supreme Court verdict about the payment of compensation and taking group insurance for the children, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Manmohan Singh, who was finance minister. It comprised Arjun Singh (Human Resource Development), Vijay Bhaskar Reddy (Law), and Chinta Mohan, Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers. The mandate for the GoM was to prepare guidelines for disbursement of compensation, attend to the complaints from the victims, if any, and ensure implementation of the Supreme Court verdict which included group insurance cover for the children. The Opposition lost the opportunity to ask Manmohan Singh and Arjun Singh what the 1991 GoM had done — and if nothing, why.
It was expected that the members would discuss the entire gamut of the tragedy and its aftermath till date and come up with a concrete plan for redressing the misery of the survivors, ensuring them proper medical and economic rehabilitation. The hopes were aroused by the interest Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj had shown in the present state of the gas victims, by interacting with various people concerned, after the Bhopal CJM verdict of June 7 (sentencing and then honourably bailing out the Indian officials of the Union Carbide). However, it would now seem that she had failed to understand the problem in perspective. Or was she too much disturbed by the arrest of former Gujarat minister and an Advani crony Amit Shah by CBI? The Haryana-born Vidisha MP was a bit too harsh on the CBI which always works as the barking dog for whoever is in power at the Centre. In 2002, the CBI had moved an application in the Bhopal court praying that the Section against Warren Anderson should also be changed from 304 (ten years or life imprisonment) to 304A (two years) of Indian Penal Code as had been done by the Supreme Court in case of the Indian officials of Union Carbide. The change of Section would have obviated the need to extradite Anderson. The direction to the CBI for moving this application had come from the Union Home Ministry, then headed by Advani. The Bhopal court had, however, turned down the application.