Wednesday , 27 March 2019

NEW DELHI: The Group of Ministers on Bhopal gas disaster on Monday recommended a Rs 1,300-crore package for the victims enhancing the compensation for the kin of dead to Rs 10 lakh and for permanently disabled Rs 5 lakh.

Bhopal panel seeks Rs 1,300-crore package for victims

NEW DELHI: The Group of Ministers on Bhopal gas disaster on Monday recommended a Rs 1,300-crore package for the victims enhancing the compensation for the kin of dead to Rs 10 lakh and for permanently disabled Rs 5 lakh.

The GoM, headed by the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram, concluded four-day deliberations and submitted its report to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, which will be considered by the Union cabinet at a special meeting on Friday.

The ministers recommended fresh steps to seek extradition of former chief of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson and filing of a curative petition in the Supreme Court to restore stringent charges against the accused in the gas leak disaster that claimed over 15,000 lives nearly 26 years ago.

The Surface Transport Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, a member of the GoM, told reporters that the dead would get Rs 10 lakh while the permanently disabled will get Rs 5 lakh, those temporarily disabled will get Rs 1 lakh.

Those afflicted by cancer and other serious ailments will get Rs 2 lakh, Mr Nath said adding the money would be given after deducting payments already made to the victims. He said the Centre would foot Rs 750 crore in this regard.

The Madhya Pradesh minister, Mr Babulal Gaur, who is also a member of the GoM, expressed dissatisfaction over the package saying the state government has demanded a Rs 5,000-crore package.

On the legal front, the GoM recommended that the Centre will file a curative petition in the Supreme Court to seek restoration of the stringent charges filed in the CBI charge-sheet against the accused in the case.

In 1996, the apex court had reduced the charge from Section 304-Part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) to Section 304 A (criminal negligence) of the IPC.

While Section 304 II provides a maximum imprisonment of 10 years, Section 304 A provides a maximum jail term of two years.

Mr Chidambaram told reporters after the final meeting of the GoM that the ministers have made "significant recommendations" and their immediate focus was "to bring relief to those people who had suffered as a result of the ghastly tragedy".

The group is also believed to have cleared a proposal for cleanup of the toxic site at the plant in Bhopal for burying the poisonous materials there itself. The job will be done by the Madhya Pradesh government in which the central government will provide financial and technical assistance.

A sum of Rs 300 crore will be set apart for the cleanup job, the sources said.

The GoM is also believed to have favoured the take over of Bhopal Memorial Trust hospital, set up in the aftermath of the tragedy.

It has earmarked Rs 230 crore for the upgradation of this and six other hospitals.

Altogether 5,295 people lost their lives immediately after the gas disaster while 10,047 others succumbed to various diseases in the following months.

Out of the 5,60,000 affected people, nearly 37,000 were permanently disabled while the rest received minor injuries.

Mr Nath said that it was decided to make fresh attempts to seek extradition of 89-year-old Anderson, who now lives outside New York, on the basis of "fresh material" available now. Earlier attempts had failed.

He said the curative petition will seek enhancement of the punishment to the accused. A bench of the apex court headed by Mr Justice A M Ahmadi in 1996 had given a judgment diluting the charges against the accused.

The GoM was reconstituted in the wake of nationwide outrage over the light punishment given to the accused.

The GoM is also believed to have recommended to the government that it pursue the civil liability of Dow Chemicals, the successor of UCC worldwide, by following up on a case in the Bhopal High Court in its Jabalpur bench.

The GoM discussed various issues relating to criminal and civil liability, relief and rehabilitation and remediation in the wake of the Bhopal court verdict in the case two weeks ago.

"We have dealt with all issues — compensation, legal and pursuing the extradition of Warren Anderson, the legal options available to the government of India and most importantly the remediation issues and health-related matters," Mr Chidambaram said.

The Union Home Minister said thousands of people continue to suffer due to the tragedy and the central government was "extremely sympathetic" to their plight.

"We think we have made significant recommendations. GoM is not over. It will continue to address any issue that will come up before it," he said.

Mr Chidambaram said the GoM has also identified several residuary issues which will be dealt with in the future meetings of the GoM.

Sources said the government was planning to transport the 500 tonnes toxic materials to Pitampura in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, where an incinerator has been put in place, for disposal. A trial run with 40 tonnes of toxic waste is expected to be carried out in the next two months.

All other material in the plant will be detoxified and dismantled using scientific methods.

However, 1.1 million tonnes of contaminated soil will be buried at the disaster site itself with a concrete slab, above which a memorial could be constructed.

Sources said all the compensation amount is expected to be disbursed by the end of this year.

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