New Commission on Bhopal Gas: politics at play
Posted September 1, 2010on:
After a two-month search, the Madhya Pradesh government has found the judge to head the commission constituted to inquire into the Bhopal gas leak disaster. He is Justice S L Kochar, the administrative judge at the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. Justice Kochar is due to retire in late October this year — unless the constitutional amendment moved by law minister Veerappa Moily in Parliament on august 25, aimed at raising the retirement age of the High Court judges from 62 years to 65 years, becomes law and comes into operation by that time.
Justice Kochar was recently in the news for issuing notices (along with another junior judge) on BJP MLA Ramesh Mendola’s petition challenging the authority of the designated court to direct the Lokayukta to investigate what has come to be known as the Sugnidevi College compound land scam. Mendola and his mentor and industries and commerce minister Kailash Vijayvargiya are the main accused in the Rs 100-crore land scam. His ground for challenging the court directive is that the designated court cannot ask the Lokayukta to investigate a scam; it can ask only the police. (Incidentally, the Enforcement Directorate is reported to have become interested in the Sugnidevi College compound land scam, apparently sensing it to be a case of money laundering).
The terms of reference announced by the State government for the new commission have the hallmark of Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s politics of fraud and deceit. The commission has been asked to inquire if the rules and regulations were complied with while setting the Union Carbide plant, if adequate measures were taken by Union Carbide to prevent mishaps, and if adequate safety measures were installed by Union Carbide for the disposal of the hazardous waste after the 1984 disaster. More importantly, the commission will inquire into the role of the State government and others in the arrest, release and in providing safe passage to Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, and any other matter arising out of or incidental to these issues.
Where does it leave the lakhs of the persons who have been suffering from bereavements and a variety of ailments for the past quarter century, having been cheated by the politicians, bureaucrats and judicial officers all these years? The commission may provide what Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley failed to get in the two Houses of Parliament during the otiose debate on the Bhopal gas leak tragedy: something concrete against the Congress leaders, who were ruling in the State and at the Centre at the time, for letting off Anderson honourably — and possibly for not keeping a strict watch over how Union Carbide was running its pesticide plant. The victims will, meanwhile, continue to suffer as they have been.
It seems Chauhan heard about the gas leak tragedy and its victims only after the June 7 judgement of the Bhopal CJM (sentencing and then immediately bailing out the Indian officials of Union Carbide) and has since been showing his concern about the plight of the victims almost incessantly. Replying to a discussion on the admissibility of an adjournment motion in the Assembly on July 26, he announced, among other things, that his government would do whatever was possible for the “all-round rehabilitation” of the gas victims, would provide drinking water connections, free of cost, to the residents of the 14 severely affected localities, would ensure better medical care of the gas affected people by ensuring adequate medicines and equipment in the hospitals and dispensaries set up for the gas victims.
Chauhan is about to complete five years as chief minister. He has become aware of the suffering population of the gas victims since June 7, if not earlier. And it is over a month when he announced what he intended to do for them. What has been preventing him to direct his administration to complete these tasks expeditiously at least now? The survivors are living in the same wretched conditions, without proper medical care and without hope of rehabilitation, as they did when Chauhan became the chief minister or when the Bhopal CJM gave the verdict or when Chauhan shed his crocodile tears over the plight of the gas victims in the Assembly.
As for the drinking water to the residents of the 14 severely affected localities, the Supreme Court had directed the State government in 2004 to provide potable drinking water in these localities on priority basis. Crores of rupees have since been shown as having been spent on this “project”.
Chauhan also heard, it seems, after the June 7 verdict that there was a colony of “gas widows” on an outer fringe of Bhopal and he lost no time in announcing his determination to ameliorate the living conditions of these widows. In his reply in the Assembly on June 26, he even listed some of the things for these hapless women and their children: their difficulty in procuring ration cards would be removed, their small dwellings (now in a dilapidated condition for want of care) would be exempted from “property tax” (yes, “property tax”) and also from water tax (which may wrongly suggest that they get regular drinking water supply in the colony), their houses would be renovated and they would be provided all the civic amenities. He also announced a monthly pension of Rs 500 to the “gas widows”.
The colony to rehabilitate the widows of gas leak victims was developed completely out of the city by the Madhya Pradesh Housing Board in the early nineties out of the funds provided by the Centre. Neither the Central nor the State government has since bothered about those inhabiting there. Today the houses are dilapidated, there is no sewerage system, and drinking water supply is irregular as is electricity supply (though the residents continue to get exorbitant electricity bills — sometimes running into thousands of rupees) and the medical facilities there are non-existent. Occurrence of diarrhoea in the locality is a frequent phenomenon. The monthly pension of Rs 500 promised by the chief minister is out of the funds sanctioned by the Centre.