Victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy may be given more compensation and a fresh rehabilitation package if the first meeting on Friday of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on the subject is any indication.
Also, a quick clean up of remaining 350 metric tonne toxic waste still at the Union Carbide plant site within a time frame should get priority. The waste is polluting drinking water in the vicinity and fresh piplelines are still being laid for clean supply to 14 localities.
Till date, the Central government has spent around Rs 300 crore because Rs 3,000 crore (compensation from Union Carbide) was disbursed in 5.74 lakh cases through an elaborate process of adjudication of individual claims.
“We will take a comprehensive view… By Monday, we should be able to finalise the recommendations. We will give our best and most sympathetic consideration to all these people ...,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who heads the GoM, said after the meeting.
The GoM debated ways to give more compensation as the average amount paid in death cases was Rs 2.26 lakh, which at current prices will be much more, officials said.
The ministers agreed that more money should be given to victims so that the focus shifted from individual claims to better relief and rehabilitation measures through a package, to be finalised by Monday.
The big issue before the GoM is whether an empowered commission for rehabilitation — mooted by the NGOs — to implement a MP government Plan of Action (at the cost of Rs 982.75 crore) is a good idea.
The state government has opposed the idea and response from ministries of Finance and Law has been lukewarm.
The extradition of Warren Anderson, then Union Carbride chief, who is proclaimed offender did not figure in Friday’s discussion.
On Saturday, the GoM will examine legal issues including revisiting opinions on Anderson and fixing liability of Dow Chemicals, which bought UCIL later, for paying at least Rs 100 crore for the clean up. This issue is still before the MP High Court.
As a long term measure, the GoM could also consider sanctions and liabilities in case of a similar disaster by amending laws for more stringent punishment for those held guilty.
Chidambaram said the GoM would meet in two sessions on Saturday when health and legal issues would be taken up. On Sunday, the GoM would go into the environmental issues of the disaster and work on the action plan.