A white elephant called Kochar Commission
Posted March 24, 2013on:
The Madhya Pradesh government has once again increased by one year the tenure of the Kochar Commission inquiring into various aspects of the Bhopal gas leak disaster of 1984. The Commission was constituted in August 2010. Its working in the last two years suggests only one thing: chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan wanted to oblige S L Kochar by providing him a sinecure for some favour done by him either as lawyer or a member of the judiciary.
The farcical June 7, 2010 judgement of the Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) handed down to the disaster accused by treating them like VVIPs in the court and bailing them out in the same breath in which the two-year prison term was announced gave the wily Chauhan the idea of setting up the Commission for Kochar who was not even retired by then. The Commission started functioning nearly a year after the chief minister’s announcement to constitute it.
The terms of reference announced by the government were laudable enough: the commission was asked to inquire if the rules and regulations were complied with while setting up 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 would inquire into the role of the State government (then headed by Arjun Singh) 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.
Had Kochar been honest about his assignment, he would have first tried to procure the documents collected by the first judicial commission which then chief minister Arjun Singh had constituted to assuage the worldwide outrage over the disaster. Once the public anger had subsided, the judicial commission was wound up. But in the eight or nine months that the commission was functional, it was said to have collected documents running into thousands of pages from various parties involved, including the statement of the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), the subsidiary of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), which was directly responsible for operating the pesticide plant in Bhopal.
Kochar did not even show the honesty to take up, at least so far, the first part of the terms of reference, that is, if the rules and regulations were complied with while setting up the Union Carbide plant and if adequate measures were taken by Union Carbide to prevent mishaps and also for the disposal of the hazardous waste. While the US courts have dealt at length with how the Union Carbide Corporation had chosen to opt for substandard safety measure for its Bhopal plant in contrast with the first class technology used at its Virginia plant, not much has been revealed about the compliance of rules and regulations in setting up the Bhopal plant. Kochar, it seems, was wary of antagonising some powerful politicians and bureaucrats who had gone out of their way to help the Union Carbide executives.
A senior bureaucrat (now retired) had, for instance, ordered removal of all factories and commercial activities including such as vehicle repair workshop, saw machines, and dairies from the Chhola area of Bhopal as it was strictly a residential area. The same bureaucrat in his dual capacity as the Director of Town and Country Planning and the Administrator of Bhopal Municipal Corporation had granted special permission, in July 1973, to Union Carbide to set up in the same area the pesticide plant which was the source of the havoc in 1984. The bureaucrat, once virtually the hatchet man of Arjun Singh, is now considered close to the BJP and RSS leaders.
The Commission has only been wasting its time in the Warren Anderson saga about which hardly any new fact is likely to emerge as too much has already come out in newspapers, in courts and otherwise. Some of the key factors involved, like Rajiv Gandhi and Arjun Singh, are no more. Others, like then Bhopal Collector Moti Singh and Police Superintendent Swaraj Puri, have either deposed before courts or given out their versions in various interviews. Moti Singh has even written a book detailing his role in the so-called arrest and release of Anderson. Kochar is biding his time by listening to the depositions of Swaraj Puri, Moti Singh and smaller fries who were on duty at the time. He even went to the absurdity of issuing a notice to Warren Anderson asking him to travel from his quiescence in the US to Bhopal to depose before the Kochar Commission working from a small house in a little known locality. At one stage, Kochar even bullied the Bhopal CJM to get unauthorisedly the original file of the proceedings in an on-going Warren Anderson-related case.
One does not expect that the Kochar Commission will be able to unravel any new facts about the arrival, arrest, release and ceremonial departure of Warren Anderson. All it can do is to give a new lease of life to the controversy later this year when the Assembly elections are due and Shivraj Singh Chauhan will be seeking the third term in office.