New Delhi: Congress on Thursday found itself embroiled in attacks from within and outside with its leaders holding the then party governments at the Centre and Madhya Pradesh responsible for the escape of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson after the gas tragedy in December 1984.
The Centre sought to play down the controversy, saying all such issues would be looked into by the Group of Ministers (GoM) set up yesterday to go into the range of issues related to the Bhopal gas disaster in which over 15,000 people were killed and lakhs others affected.
Questions were also raised over the role of Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi for taking up the case of Dow Chemicals, the successor of the Union Carbide which was involved in the gas leakage.
Singhvi vehemently denied the charges contending that “There is no conflict of interest in representing Dow Chemical in courts as a lawyer and being the member of political party.”
After Dow Chemicals took over UCIL, the Bhopal gas leak tragedy victims moved the court of city`s chief judicial magistrate to summon Dow Chemicals, contending that the new company has to take over all the legal liability of the UCIL.
The court issued a summons to Dow Chemical, which was later stayed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2005. It was in this case that Singhvi is said to have represented Dow Chemicals.
"I have no idea of this charge (conflict of interest), as you call it... it is laughable," said Singhvi.
"This is an old case... it involves only the threshold legal question - whether Dow is same as, or even remotely related to - Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL)," he told a private news channel, adding that "for three-four years, these NGOs (representing Bhopal gas tragedy victims) have been trying to prove Dow and UCIL are the same. Courts have not accepted this... the application is still pending."
"I represent Dow Chemicals as a senior counsel, I don`t deal directly with them," Singhvi said on the phone from Yale, where he is currently leading an Indian delegation.
"I don`t mix my law and politics. I don`t even know Dow Chemicals in the direct sense in any manner. I am instructed by solicitors. Several senior counsels have appeared for them or given them opinion or advice in a purely legal sense and senior counsels are instructed by advocates and solicitors. It has got nothing to do with the government, this case or the Bhopal case," he added.
Who asked for Anderson`s release: Chouhan to Arjun Singh
Internal politics appeared to have come to the fore in Congress with senior leader Digvijay Singh firing the salvo by reportedly saying that release of Anderson had come under "US pressure". Singh was then a minister in the Arjun Singh government of Madhya Pradesh.
Echoing his views, another party veteran Vasant Sathe said "collusion" between the Madhya Pradesh government and "some people" in the Centre had allowed Anderson to escape justice.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has written to former union minister Arjun Singh to disclose the name of the person on whose instructions Warren Anderson, the then CEO of Union Carbide, was released Dec 7, 1984, just days after a leak in the company`s plant here instantly killed over 3,000 people.
In the letter to Arjun Singh late Thursday, Chouhan said the nation has been waiting for the last few days for him to reveal the identity of the person who arranged Anderson`s release after his arrest Dec 7, 1984.
"The people of Bhopal and indeed all of Madhya Pradesh have a right to this information from their distinguished chief minister of the time," he added.
No ministerial connivance on Anderson: Soni
No central minister had connived to ensure that former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson left the country four days after the Bhopal gas tragedy, the world`s worst industrial disaster, the government asserted Thursday.
"There is no conclusive evidence to show that any central minister had a role to play in Anderson leaving the country," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters here.
"The very fact that a group of ministers on the Bhopal gas tragedy has been reconstituted shows how serious the government is on the issue. The law minister has also spoken on the issue without delay. Let the committee give its report and we will see how to move forward," she added.
The committee would, among other things, study the implications of a Bhopal court`s judgment Monday sentencing to two years imprisonment seven people, including Keshub Mahindra, the chairman of Union Carbide India, when the Dec 2-3, 1984 gas tragedy occurred.
The sentence has sparked outrage among activists and other Indian citizens for being too little too late.
Soni, however, refused to comment on a statement by Congress leader Digvijay Singh that Anderson had been permitted to go scot-free under US pressure.
"I would not like to comment on that," she said.