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Anderson's escape from India still a mystery

Jun 09, 2010 11:46 PM IST Politics Politics

Bhopal: One of Bhopal gas tragedy's worst kept secrets was finally revealed on Wednesday. The then Bhopal collector Moti Singh added another dimension to the Bhopal tragedy by claiming that was instructed by the then chief secretary of Amdhya Pradesh to grant bail to former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson.

On the night of December 2, 1984 at around midnight the deadly methyl isocynate gas leaked at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal killing thousands. Police on December 7 arrested Anderson and kept him in the company guest house. But hours later Anderson was released on bail and flown from Bhopal for Delhi. He flew out of the country the same night, never to return.

Those few hours on December 7 hold the key to the Anderson mystery and now the first of the many questions on alleged government complicity have now been answered

"The chief secretary summoned me to his chamber in secretariat and said that Mr Anderson was to be released and sent to Delhi by a plane which was awaiting him at the airport," claims Moti Singh

Senior Congressman Arjun Singh was then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and Rajiv Gandhi had become prime minister only weeks earlier following Indira Gandhi's assassination. Rajkumar Keswani, one of the first journalists to break the gas leakage story, claims it was Singh who allowed use of the government plane after receiving a call from Delhi.

"Once the message reached Mr Arjun Singh he asked the authorities to make sure that the guy is released. So a magistrate was taken to the Union carbide guest house, he was granted bail and then he was taken in a police car to the airport. There was a state plane organised by the government," says Keswani.

Arjun singh, now 80 years old, has so far refused to speak on Bhopal. Captain Jaipal Singh, minister in charge of general administration and publicity in Singh's Cabinet claims he doesn't remember what really happened.

"I was deputy minister but I can't recollect," Captain Jaipal Singh says.

Very few officials who were in decision-making positions in 1984 are willing to speak up on just how Anderson was allowed to go. Many of them have died, and those who are alive, prefer not to speak out.

There are more allegations. BR Lall, the CBI officer investigating the case in 1995 when Narasimha Rao was the prime minister, has claimed that the Ministry of External Affairs had written to the CBI asking them not to pursue Anderson's extradition.

"It (note not to pursue Anderson's case) originated from External Affairs Ministry and then to it came to us. I don't know at what level the decision was taken," Lall claims

But the claim has been denied by Lall's boss and the then CBI director K Vijay Rama Rao.

"There have been efforts to extradite Warren Anderson right from the beginning," says Rama Rao.

But Rao admits the Americans were blocking the extradition. So was it Washington that pressured Delhi on December 7, 1984 to let Anderson leave the country? Unless Arjun Singh speaks, the truth may never be known.