As the political storm over the handling of Bhopal gas tragedy intensified today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened asking the nine-member Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram to meet immediately and report to the Cabinet within 10 days.
The GoM, set up last week, has been asked to assess the options and remedies available to the government in the light of the Bhopal court's verdict in the gas tragedy case.
"The Prime Minister has directed that the GoM headed by Home Minister and constituted to look into all issues relating to Bhopal gas disaster, may meet immediately to take stock of the situation arising out of the recent court judgement to assess the options and remedies available to the government on the various issues involved and to report to the Cabinet within ten days," a PMO spokesman said. The GoM was reconstituted to go into a range of issues including the relief and rehabilitation of victims and their families.
It is expected to consider the Anderson issue as well as who should be made to pay for the massive clean-up exercise required at the now-defunct Carbide plant which still has a huge quantity of toxic waste that could endanger Bhopal's safety. In 1999, Union Carbide was bought by Dow, which has washed its hands of any liability for the tragedy.
The Prime Minister's decision came even as the BJP and the Congress engaged in a fresh war of words. The saffron party attacked the Congress for its criticism of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's demand that the UPA government come clean over the gas tragedy.
"I do not think it is wrong to ask the Congress President and the Congress government to reveal the 'maut ke saudagar'(merchants of death) behind the Bhopal tragedy," BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy said at a press conference here.
Attacking Modi for targeting Gandhi, Congress said it was a "cheap and blatant" attempt to divert attention from the "debacle" of BJP's national executive held at Patna.
"BJP has alienated itself, not just from its coalition allies, but also finds itself alienated from the people of India due to divisive, disruptive and communal brand of politics practiced by leaders like Narendra Modi," Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan said here.
Senior leader Arjun Singh, who was Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister in 1984, continued with his stoic silence over why Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson was allowed to leave the country soon after the tragedy.In Bhopal, his son Ajay Singh declined to comment on his Singh's silence."It is for my father to decide when and what to say and I have nothing to do with it," Ajay told PTI.
Nearly 26 years after the disaster left over 15,000 dead, former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra and six others were sentenced to two years imprisonment on June 7 by a Bhopal court and immediately secured bail, sparking an outrage over their getting off lightly. Opposition slammed the then Congress governments both at the Centre and the state over allowing Anderson to exit the country.
Giving a new spin on why Anderson was allowed to leave the country, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee yesterday said Singh had taken the decision keeping in view the prevailing law and order situation.
Anderson had flown into Bhopal on December 7, 1984, was charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and was flown out in hours on the official plane of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister. PTI