New Delhi, Aug 21 (Calcutta Tube) Breaking his silence over the Bhopal gas tragedy, senior Congress leader and then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh Wednesday refuted all charges that the then Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and at the centre tried to protect Union Carbide Chief Warren Anderson.
Participating in a short-duration discussion on the Bhopal gas tragedy in the Rajya Sabha, Arjun Singh rejected allegations over then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s role in Anderson’s safe exit from the country, saying that on no occasion had Gandhi shown any sympathy for the Union Carbide chief.
‘Blaming him (Rajiv Gandhi) is a figment of imagination of those who can’t see anything positive coming from a person of his endeavour,’ he said, adding: ‘Rajivji never uttered a word to me in support of Anderson.’
He, however said that his then secretary Brahma Swaroop informed him of calls from the home ministry seeking bail for Anderson.
In a rare gesture, Arjun Singh, who has been missing from the house for quite a while due to poor health, was given permission to speak while sitting.
Detailing his own actions on the morning after the Dec 2-3, 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, Arjun Singh also said he had personally ordered the arrest of Anderson when he arrived in Bhopal after the tragedy.
‘I personally briefed the officers (about) the decision to arrest Anderson,’ he said, adding he had also given the orders in writing to the officials.
‘As soon as he arrived, the SP (Superintendent of Police) told him he was in custody,’ Arjun Singh said.
He said Anderson was then taken to the Union Carbide guest house to be kept in custody, as with agitated crowds in the city, his security concerns were mounting.
‘My responsibility was to see no physical harm was done to him. I did it with a heavy heart,’ he said.
As for Anderson’s being flown from Bhopal to Delhi in a state plane after he was granted bail, Arjun Singh said this should not have happened.
‘I feel he shouldn’t have gone by the state plane.’
He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take up the issue of Anderson’s extradition during US President Barack Obama’s visit here in November.
‘Today our government is committed to extradite him. I wish, the first thing the prime minister would put to the president of America when he comes in November is that we have an unspoken promise to be fulfilled (on Anderson’s extradition). Then, adequate compensation can be asked for. President Obama has said that let someone make a reference to the issue and then we would see (what can be done),’ Arjun Singh said.
Describing Anderson as ‘arrogant’, Arjun Singh termed him as being directly involved in the tragedy.
‘I was amazed at the audacity of the person who was directly responsible for the tragedy. He was definitely not there to share our grief,’ he said.
Saying that the tragedy was ‘a matter of anguish to recall’, Arjun Singh indicated he himself was one of the victims as he woke up ‘in the middle of the night with an acrid smell filling my nostrils’.
Pleading his innocence, Arjun Singh said that he had constituted the N.K. Singh Commission to give a report in the tragedy, but it was not aborted by him.
‘I ceased to be the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh on 13th March, 1985. I am not escaping from anything, I am only narrating the facts,’ he said.
Arjun Singh added that he had offered to step down as chief minister when Rajiv Gandhi visited Bhopal Dec 6, 1984.
‘But Rajivji turned down the offer. He said providing relief to the affected should be the priority,’ Arjun Singh said.