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Safe passage to Anderson was only option: Ex-PMO official

New Delhi, June 17 (Calcutta Tube) Giving safe passage to Warren Anderson, then chairman of Union Carbide Corp after the Bhopal gas leak, was a ‘sensible arrangement’ as the government had no other option, says a former spokesperson of the Rajiv Gandhi government.

‘Anderson offered to come to India to help out and approached the Indian government via the US embassy. If he was offering to help out, there was nothing wrong in that,’ G. Parthasarathy told IANS here.

‘It was a sensible arrangement as there was no other option. One could not cut off all ties with Union Carbide if one wanted to get compensation from the parent company of the Indian unit,’ said Parthasarathy, who joined Rajiv Gandhi’s PMO as joint secretary and spokesperson three years after the Bhopal tragedy.

Parthasarathy also pointed out that Anderson was arrested in Bhopal, only to be released on bail the same day, as the then chief minister Arjun Singh was not aware of this understanding on the safe passage at the highest level.

‘The prime minister was away campaigning. Indira Gandhi was assassinated a few months ago. Those were very special circumstances,’ he said.

Parthsarathy’s comments came after Gordon Streeb, who was US deputy chief of mission in New Delhi in 1984, told IANS that Anderson decided to come to India only after being assured of safe return.

Refusing safe passage to him would have meant a further strain the India-US relations which were stuck in mutual suspicion in those days, said a former official who did not wish to be named.

Parathasarathy’s explanation behind Anderson’s safe passage comes amid vehement denials from the ruling Congress party and other top officials at the time of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.

‘I have no knowledge of his coming or going. If an arrangement was made on these lines, I would not have known, P.C. Alexander, the principal secretary in the Rajiv Gandhi’s PMO, told IANS. Alexander, however, denied any role of Rajiv Gandhi in the ‘escape’ of Anderson.

Alexander’s comments buttress the suspicion that the safe passage arrangement was struck at the highest levels of the government even as some point fingers at Rajiv Gandhi himself for allegedly giving a nod to this plan.

‘He (Anderson) had some kind of assurance that he would not be detained in India, Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s PMO, told IANS.

Whether he (Rajiv Gandhi) gave instructions or not, he was in the loop, Mishra said, adding that the BJP-led NDA government pursued the extradition of the man, derided in India as the ‘butcher of Bhopal’, but nothing came out of those efforts.

At least 3,000 people died on the night of Dec 2-3 in Bhopal when deadly methyl isocyanate gas spewed from the Union Carbide plant. At least another 15,000-20,000 people, most of them poor, are believed to have died in the next few years from the after effects of the chemical poisoning.

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