New Delhi, June 20 (Calcutta Tube) The ministerial panel on the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy met here for the third day Sunday to finalise deliberations on the areas that require attention for providing relief to people affected by the world’s worst industrial disaster.
In Sunday’s meeting, which was the fourth since Friday, the Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram discussed environment related issues plaguing parts of the Madhya Pradesh capital since the Dec 2-3, 1984 toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide plant that killed and maimed thousands.
‘The fourth session of the GoM met today. We spent nearly two hours. Today we discussed remediation and environment related issues,’ Home Minister P. Chidamabaram told reporters after the meeting in his North Block office.
He said the remediation of contaminated soil, contaminated water, the toxic wastes on the site and the corroded plant in Bhopal were thoroughly discussed but refused to give details on the meeting.
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 of Dec 2-3. 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.
A source privy to Sunday’s meeting told IANS that the onus of cleaning the site has been put on the state with close assistance from the central government.
‘(Environment Minister) Jairam Ramesh made a presentation on the issue. The GoM will recommend that the central government provide assistance, but the responsibility to clean the site of the toxic waste has been fixed on the Madhya Pradesh government,’ said the source.
The panel, which met once Friday and twice Saturday, is expected to finalise its report on the tragedy and submit it to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday.
‘This is the last session of the GoM. 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,’ Chidamabaram said.
In its four sessions, the panel has identified key areas of concern, including the possibility of greater compensation for the victims’ families and those affected.
The sources said the conclusions of the final recommendations may also include suggesting a renewed bid to seek former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson’s extradition and a trial in India.
The other issues the group has been discussing are: strengthening the legal framework to deal with industrial disasters; cleaning up the site; and exploring options of pressing liability claims against Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide.
On Saturday, the GoM discussed the legal implications behind reopening the case against Union Carbide and providing health care for the victims.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reconstituted the high-level ministerial group, originally set up in 2008, following the public outrage after a Bhopal court June 7 sentenced seven Indian executives of Union Carbide to only two years in jail and granted them bail immediately.
The panel also consists of Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Urban Planning Minister Jaipal Reddy, Roads and Highways Minister Kamal Nath, Tourism Minister Kumari Selja, Fertilisers and Chemicals Minister M.K. Alagiri, Minister of State in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
Madhya Pradesh’s minister in-charge of rehabilitation is a permanent invitee to the panel.