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Why was Anderson released? Arjun Singh`s book tells all

New Delhi: A top bureaucrat in New Delhi and not then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had lobbied for bailing out Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson after his arrest for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, Arjun Singh, then the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, says in his posthumously-published autobiography.

"I would like to make it clear that at no point did Rajiv talk to me about this matter or intercede on Anderson`s behalf. I came to know later that the then union home secretary RD Pradhan, upon instructions of the union home minister had telephoned (state chief secretary) Brahma Swaroop to ensure Anderson`s release," Singh says in ‘A Grain of Sand in the Hourglass of Time’ (HayHouse), co-authored with Ashok Chopra.

Pradhan had also instructed that Anderson be sent back to New Delhi in a state government plane. Anderson had visited Bhopal Dec 7, four days after disastrous gas leak from the Union Carbide plant on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, to ostensibly to assess the extent of the damage. More than 3,000 people died instantly in the tragedy and many thousands more in subsequent years.

Singh says he told Brahma Swaroop to ensure Anderson`s arrest was recorded before he was sent back to Delhi from Bhopal.

Early in the afternoon, Anderson was granted bail by the Bhopal district magistrate, Singh, who also served as the union human resource development minister, says in his book.

"The deputy inspector-general of Bhopal, who was supposed to escort Anderson to the airport after instructions for his release was given, was not in town. Consequently, this task had to be done by (Bhopal superintendent of police) Swaraj Puri very discreetly.

"The media immediately did not get to know that Anderson had flown out of Bhopal at 1 p.m and then to the US. It was only around 6 p.m. that the BBC reported the news, which soon created a political storm," Singh recounts in the book, the draft of which was completed just before he died on March 4, 2011.

"There was a huge hue and cry demanding to know why Anderson had been let off so lightly: Anderson had flown out of India never to return."

The tragedy, the world`s worst industrial disaster, haunts even after 28 years with its staggering toll that continues to fester with new ramifications, some of them permanent.

According to Singh, in the final analysis, the Madhya Pradesh government had placed the immediate deaths from the gas leak at 3,000, while 8,000 have died since from gas-related diseases.

A 2006 state government affidavit placed the number of injured at 558,125, the book says.

"Many legal cases are pending in various courts, including the arrest of Warren Anderson who is in his early 90s, to India."

"Even today, the after-effects are being felt. Some of the next-generation members have inherited various diseases (like cancer, asthma, bronchitis and skin problems), besides suffering from physical deformities. Also the ground water in parts of Bhopal remains contaminated with toxic chemicals."

In 2010, a discussion on the aftermath of the tragedy triggered heated exchanges between the BJP and Congress in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, Singh writes.

"Insinuations were made by BJP members (including by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan) that Rajiv Gandhi and I had let Anderson off the hook easily. They accused Rajiv and me of succumbing to external pressures. I have already mentioned how Anderson was released."

IANS

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