Damage control? PM asks Bhopal GoM to meet immediately
Story Dated: Monday, June 14, 2010 18:13 hrs IST
New Delhi: Amid raging controversy over the "escape" of former Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson from India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed the Group of Ministers (GoM) looking into the Bhopal gas disaster to meet immediately and report to the cabinet within 10 days.
Manmohan Singh directed that the GoM "may meet immediately to take stock of the situation arising out of the recent court judgment, to assess the options and remedies available to the government on the various issues involved and to report to the cabinet within 10 days", a statement from the prime minister's office (PMO) said here.
This is the first intervention from the prime minister after the June 7 judgment from a Bhopal court, giving the seven accused in the 1984 gas tragedy two-year sentences and letting them out on bail, triggered outrage in the country.
Although his senior ministers have spoken about the Bhopal gas verdict, there has been no word from Manmohan Singh on what his government plans to do to address issues of justice for the victims of the world's worst industrial disaster that killed thousands instantly and an estimated 20,000 people over the years.
The GoM, set up to look into all issues relating to the Bhopal disaster, was reconstituted recently with Home Minister P. Chidambaram as its head.
The empowered GoM also comprises Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Law and Justice Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Minister for Urban Planning S. Jaipal Reddy, Minister for Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath, Tourism Minister Kumari Selja, Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers M.K. Alagiri, Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
The announcement by the PMO comes a day after Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi questioned Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's silence over the gas leak and asked her about "who was Bhopal's maut ka saudagar", (merchant of death).
The Congress government in India was led by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had taken over just a month before the night of Dec 2-3 when gas leaked out of the Union Carbide pesticide plant.
Following Modi's statement, the Congress went on a damage control exercise, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee claiming Sunday that the fear of failing law and order situation in the aftermath of the disaster prompted then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh to facilitate the departure of Anderson from the country.
Mukherjee's comments were seen by many as aimed at deflecting attention from the opposition's insinuations that Rajiv Gandhi was allegedly involved in Anderson's escape.
Mukherjee added that the central government was exploring the possibility of Anderson's extradition from the US and would also look into "the legal angle and procedures" to appeal to the judiciary against the June 7 Bhopal court ruling.