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Bhopal ministerial panel to meet Friday

New Delhi, June 17 (Calcutta Tube) Driven by a deadline set by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the reconstituted Group of Ministers (GoM) on the Bhopal gas tragedy will meet Friday to consider how best to reach out to those victims who have not yet been adequately compensated, a senior minister said Thursday.

‘Two hours have been allocated for discussion. Various issues will be discussed, including the issue of reaching out to those victims who, unfortunately, have not yet got adequate compensation,’ Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said.

‘I am confident that the meeting will address the concerns on a priority basis,’ Soni added while speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting presided over by the prime minister.

Asked whether the GoM, which is headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, would seek the views of senior Congress leader Arjun Singh, who was the Madhya Pradesh chief minister at the time of the December 2-3, 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, Soni said: ‘I will not answer that question.’

Arjun Singh is under fire for having allowed then Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson to leave Bhopal Dec 7, 1984 hours after he was arrested and bailed out by a Bhopal court. This was four days after the world’s worst industrial disaster that killed thousands instantly and an estimated 20,000 people over the years.

Manmohan Singh had on Monday directed the GoM 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 was 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 disaster.

The GoM, which was reconstituted last month, 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.

Asked earlier this week if the GoM will also discuss the issue of Anderson’s extradition, Chidambaram said he had no idea of various issues that might come up for deliberation.

‘I have no idea. Let us see what papers are circulated by the ministry of chemicals and petro-chemicals,’ he said Tuesday.

The US said last week it would give ‘fair consideration’ to any request for Anderson’s extradition and ‘carefully evaluate’ any call to bring him to justice.

Anderson, 89, and wife Lillian Anderson are living in retirement in Bridgehampton, Long Island, New York and also own houses in Vero Beach, Florida and Greenwich, Connecticut. He is believed to be deaf and senile by activists who have confronted him over the Bhopal disaster.

‘Since extradition requests are confidential, I’m not in position to verify, the fact, whether we have such requests or whether we have responded to it,’ State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, told reporters Friday when asked how the US will respond if the Indian government approaches it with a fresh extradition request.

‘We have an extradition treaty with India. And if India makes an extradition request to us, we will give it fair consideration,’ he said.

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