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Posts Tagged ‘S.L.Kochar

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.

It was the impotent rage of the survivors of the Bhopal MiC gas leak disaster that made them resort to ‘rail roko’ agitation on the 27th anniversary of the world’s biggest industrial disaster and later burn the effigy of home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram. As chairman of the GoM on Bhopal gas disaster, Chidambaram has been as callous and insensitive to the problems of the survivors as Manmohan Singh was during the Narasimha Rao government.

The provocation for the survivors’ anger against Chidambaram was provided by the decision of the GoM at its latest meeting not to revise the figures of death and injuries in the curative petition (civil), now pending before the Supreme Court, for enhanced compensation. Nawab Khan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha (BGPMPSM) alleged Chidambaram’s close association with Dow Chemical (which had taken over Union Carbide in 2002). They demanded removal of Chidambaram from the post of the chairman of the GoM. The survivors quoted from a letter written by Chidambaram (then finance minister) to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in 2006, pleading that Dow Chemical should be exonerated from its liabilities in the Bhopal disaster.

The Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) claimed that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had estimated that by 1997 over 15,000 people had succumbed to the tragedy but in court, the government only spoke of 5,295 deaths.

The sham verdict of the Bhopal CJM’s court in June 2010 (when the accused in the gas leak disaster were treated like VIPs by the CJM in his court and released on bail as soon as the sentence was announced) had created a big uproar inside and outside the country. The GoM, presided over by Palaniappan Chidambaram had met urgently and given the impression as if the Government of India was, for once, sincere in its approach. But it turned out to be a false hope, once again.  . No steps have been taken to redress the grievances of the survivors.  The curative petition for reversing the 1996 verdict of the Supreme Court was deliberately bungled by the attorney general  and then rejected by the five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice S H Kapadia who had, though, observed during the hearing that the Supreme Court had gone beyond its jurisdiction in delivering the 1996 verdict. The GoM has failed to come up with an effective mechanism to ensure medical rehabilitation of the victims and also to suggest avenues of providing them some means of earning their livelihood, suitable to their physical condition

If the Government of India, more particularly the GoM, has been ignoring the interests of the Bhopal gas leak survivors quietly, the ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh has been doing the same noisily. After the CJM’s infamous verdict of June 2010, State BJP president Prabhat Jha had, of all the persons, made a public statement that if the Central government did not pay adequate compensation to the survivors, the State government would pay. The chief minister has, of course, been making so many promises that it is difficult to keep a track of all.

One promise he has, though, fulfilled — that about appointing a new commission of inquiry. He had announced the name of Justice S L Kochar as the chairman of the new commission long before Kochar had retired from the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The Kochar Commission has been functioning for several months now — if it can be called functioning. Neither the survivors have taken this commission seriously nor the commission has shown any seriousness, at least so far, in completing the task entrusted to it. It would appear that all Chauhan wanted was to oblige some people for past favours. The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) and Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sayahog Samiti (BGPSSS), the two organisations working for the survivors, have expressed their disappointment with the way the commission is functioning. They feel that the Commission can be expected to produce some result if it starts from the stage where the former Commission headed by Justice N K Singh was forced to wind up and all the submissions that were made before the N K Singh Commission are taken on record.

They wanted completion of the house-to-house survey of the gas affected population. Such a survey, they have pointed out, was undertaken immediately after the disaster by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) but it was abruptly wound up and the proformas completed by the 500-odd volunteers were confiscated by the government. Under the circumstances, it would be extremely helpful if the State Government, even at this late stage, allowed TISS access to the said proformas so that the same could be processed and analyzed fruitfully in the interest of the gas-victims.

They have reminded the chief minister that the State Government has till date not complied with the Supreme Court’s direction of 12.08.1985 (in Writ Petition No.11708 of 1985) to issue health booklets to all gas-victims. Even twenty-seven years after the disaster, less than ten per cent of the gas-victims have been issued health booklets. Directions to the State Government to provide health booklets to all gas-victims were repeatedly issued by the Monitoring Committee, which the State Government very conveniently continues to ignore.


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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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