NEW DELHI: The ministerial panel on the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy on Sunday decided to recommend a petition in the Supreme Court seeking reconsideration of its order diluting the charges against the accused and fixing criminal liability in the world’s worst industrial disaster.
Sources said the Group of Ministers, headed by the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram, in its final report to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, will recommend filing of a curative petition in the apex court to ensure the Bhopal accused face trial for culpable homicide.
The Supreme Court in 1996 had diluted the charges against the accused from culpable homicide not amounting to murder to negligence.
The panel, appointed by the Prime Minister to identify the areas that require attention for providing relief to people affected by the tragedy, in its fourth session on Sunday also decided to recommend extradition from the US of Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide boss in 1984 when the toxic gas leak from its Bhopal plant killed and maimed thousands.
“The group favoured approaching the US for Anderson’s extradition to face trial in India,” a source privy to the meeting told IANS.
The panel also discussed environment related issues plaguing parts of the Madhya Pradesh capital since the gas leak on December 2-3, 1984 night when nearly 40 tonnes of methyl isocynate gas leaked out of storage tanks of the Union Carbide factory, killing an estimated 20,000 people over the years.
Over 3,000 died on the night. Some 25 years after the leak, tonnes of toxic chemicals at the abandoned plant continue to pollute the groundwater, posing health hazards to thousands of Bhopal residents.
“We discussed remediation and environment related issues,” Mr Chidambaram told reporters after the meeting in his North Block office.
He said the remediation of contaminated soil and water, the toxic wastes on the site and the corroded plant in Bhopal were thoroughly discussed, but refused to give details on the meeting.
The sources said the onus of cleaning the site has been put on the state with close assistance from the central government.
The panel, which met once Friday and twice Saturday, is expected to finalise its report on the tragedy and submit it to the Prime Minister on Monday afternoon.
“We have covered all the subjects that we had identified at the beginning. The minutes are being drawn up. Tomorrow (Monday) the GoM will meet again at 10 a.m. to finalise the minutes of the meetings, finalise the recommendations and conclusions. I expect to send the report to the Prime Minister tomorrow afternoon,” the Home Minister said.
In its four sessions so far, the panel has identified key areas of concern, including the possibility of greater compensation for the victims’ families and those affected.
The other issues the group has been discussing are: strengthening the legal framework to deal with industrial disasters; exploring options of pressing liability claims against Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide in 2001.
The Prime Minister reconstituted the high-level ministerial group, originally set up in 2008, last month.
On June 7, a Bhopal court sentenced seven Indian executives of Union Carbide to only two years in jail and immediately granted them bail, a decision that sparked outraged in the country.
The panel also consists of the Health and Family Welfare Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Law Minister, Mr M Veerappa Moily, the Urban Planning Minister, Mr Jaipal Reddy, the Roads and Highways Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, the Tourism Minister, Ms Selja, the Fertilisers and Chemicals Minister, Mr M K Alagiri, the Minister of State in the PMO, Mr Prithviraj Chavan and the Environment Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh.
Madhya Pradesh’s Minister in-charge of Rehabilitation is a permanent invitee to the panel.