‘Govt compromised Bhopal Gas tragedy case’

A former CBI official has said there was political pressure to release Warren Anderson.

Updated: Feb 04, 2011, 14:11 PM IST

New Delhi: Tardy investigations by the CBI and judicial proceedings marred justice in the Bhopal gas tragedy case which took the lives of over 15,000 people and
injured several thousands, a former senior official in-charge of the probe for some time, has claimed.

BR Lall, former director general of Haryana Police, who had supervised the case between April 26, 1994 and July 1995, accused the then government at the Centre of selling out the USD 3,300 million compensation to USD 470 million in settling
all outstanding civil and criminal liability matters.

Lall, in his book `Free the CBI --power games in Bhopal and other cases`, claimed there was political pressure in influencing probe in key cases, including dramatic release of Warren Anderson and selection of Central Vigilance Commissioner.

"Bhopal case has been a tragedy of errors, commissions and omissions that extended from non-appreciations of the situation, delays, pressures, disregard to the sufferings of the lay people and all that; where every wing of the state
slipped and the judiciary had the steepest fall...," Lall said.

"The investigations took full three years, though it was not a task of more than six months. In the process the arrest of Anderson was messed up. The trial by judiciary should have been over by 1985 end or early 1986, but took decades and still the justice continues to be a mirage," he said.

The CBI had taken over the case from local police on December 9, five days after the tragedy occurred on December 3, 1984.

Immediately after the tragedy, some attorneys in USA became active and filed legal suits in the US courts for damages or compensation totalling USD 15 billion and more were rushing though. However, the Union Government restrained them by promulgating the `Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (processing of claims) Ordinance 1985`.

It was enacted into a law on March 29, 1985 and the State took over all the responsibility to fight all the suits on behalf of the citizens. "It was thought to be a good step and much was made to be expected of it, but unfortunately it became a tool of collective organised surrender of Indian interests instead of protecting the same... "The Union of India filed a consolidated claim amounting to USD 3.3 billion in India for damages and compensation. This was besides the criminal case that was under investigation with the CBI," Lall said.

In February 1989 a settlement was reached between the Government of India and the Union Carbide, settling all the outstanding matters both civil and criminal for a compensation of USD 470 million.

"The Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) had originally offered to pay USD 350 million plus interest that added up to USD 426 million, whereas after scaling down the demand from USD 3,300 million, the negotiators of the government of India were stuck at only USD 500 million.

"Both the sides left it to the Supreme Court that moderated the amount in between at USD 470 million. This was a sell out as cases worth USD 15 billion duly filed in courts were withdrawn post haste and a revised claim of USD 3.3 billion was filed," he said.

The former police official also questioned the way Anderson was escorted to the USA and mentioned in detail a communication received during the course of investigation by the Ministry of External Affairs asking CBI not to pursue his extradition.

Lall gave detailed account of several cases dealt by him in which he experienced pressures from higher ups including former Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal giving orders for "arbitrary" arrest of the chief of real-estate firm DLF.

"In 1969-70 I was posted as ASP Rohtak district in Haryana. The SP went on leave and I held the charge of the district in his absence. One morning as I reached my office I got a call from the DC informing that verbal orders of CM were conveyed to him for passing on to him to put Raghvender Singh, chief of the prominent building company DLF, under arrest.

"I asked him for what reason as we did not have any case against him. The DC informed that the CM secretariat wanted to talk to me but since I did not have a telephone at my residence, so they asked the DC to convey the same... Instead
of enquiring from the CM Secretariat as that would have been a verbal enquiry, I sent a wireless message to CID in police HQ...

"A little later a senior officer from CID HQ visiting the district took me to task for sending such a written message. His advice was that once such orders from the CM are conveyed, police officers themselves are supposed to look for and search
excuses for arrest. He also tried to frighten me by saying that it was with great effort and persuasion that I could be saved from the fury of CM," the author said.

"It was correct that Bansi Lal, the then CM was a terror and all the officers from all the services were mortally scared of his wrath and no one asked him any questions. Later I learnt that it was my message in writing that basically prevented any action not only against the DLF chief but against me as well. But imagine the pressures, for misuse, on the investigating agencies that are exerted for unthinkable
issues," Lall said.

He also questioned the "defective" procedure for choosing CVC and demanded change in the process. "The selection procedure of CVC by itself is defective. The CVC is the same bureaucrat placed in the different role of a watching over his
own previous role. The process of appointment itself makes him beholden to the executive bosses...

"He (CVC) knows and realises that he is obliged to the government and in particular to the PM and the Home Minister and may be many more persons that operate from behind, who all made his selection possible in the face of such difficult situation. He
will always behave like a slave to all these and the two, ie PM and Home Minister in particular. Tomorrow when he selects the Director CBI and Director Enforcement, there is no question of his being independent," the book said.

The author expressed the need of changing the CVC Act 2003 as it has no requirement of honesty or integrity for the post (of CVC and VC).