New Delhi: Noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani on Saturday said former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh could not have allowed Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to leave India after the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 without the support of his political "higher-ups".
Without naming the then Rajiv Gandhi government, the newly-elected Rajya Sabha MP said the issue of Anderson`s release was being highlighted by the media, which only diverted the focus from the core issue of the responsibilities of the then Central and state governments in not heeding early warnings about the gas leak that claimed thousands of lives.
Jethmalani was addressing a panel discussion on electoral reforms organised by the Delhi Administration Officers` Academic Forum and India International Centre here when he talked about the Bhopal gas tragedy and dubbed it as one of the failures of the media to focus on the "systemic rot" in the Indian democracy.
"Now we hear about Bhopal (gas tragedy). But who is true and who is false, nobody is able to say now. We talk about Anderson (release from police custody)," he said, adding the media was not talking about the early warnings that were known to the state and central governments of the day or about why they did not act and shut down the Union Carbide plant.
Jethmalani said when a section of the media had reported that the Bhopal tragedy was imminent, Arjun Singh had told the state Assembly that everything was fine with the UCC plant.
"You have mixed up by raising this false and peripheral issue (Anderson`s release). You should say what happened to the people in power. Arjun Singh could not do anything with the support of the higher-ups," Jethmalani said.
He also criticised the then Central government for bringing a law that took away the right of suing Union Carbide from the victims into its hands.
"Everybody thought government will recover money on the victims` behalf," he said, adding but the government sought only USD 500 million as compensation from Union Carbide, one-seventh of the original claim of USD 3.3 billion, and settled for USD 470 million.
"I want to know who was the Minister, who was the bureaucrat who told the Attorney General of India to go and settle the matter at USD 500 million or USD 470 million. All these people should be caught hold of if you want justice for the poor of the country," he said.
Jethmalani said there were several Indian advocates who had represented the Union Carbide or advised them in the Bhopal gas leak case.
"I appeared for a man wrongly sentenced to death, I was criticised for that...," he said.
Jethmalani had argued on behalf of Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru, who is currently on a death row, against the capital punishment awarded to him.