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Crisis manager confirms: Arjun ordered release,at Rajiv behest

Filling in some crucial blanks in the Warren Anderson affair after senior Congress leaders made certain references to US pressure ...

New Delhi/bhopal |
June 11, 2010 1:14:56 am

Filling in some crucial blanks in the Warren Anderson affair after senior Congress leaders made certain references to US pressure and the Centre’s involvement,the only surviving Secretary-level officer from those present at the Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary’s all-critical meeting on December 7,1984 today confirmed that the orders did come from then Chief Minister Arjun Singh,but added that he was acting at the behest of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

R C Jain,who was Agriculture Secretary in the MP government at the time of the gas leak incident,disclosed this while sharing his account for the first time after the controversy erupted afresh following the Bhopal case verdict.

“Although Mr Arjun Singh had given directions to the Chief Secretary,he was acting under the directions of Rajiv Gandhi who,in turn,was under pressure from the highest levels in the US government,” Jain told The Indian Express.

Arjun Singh has so far not spoken on what led to the release of Anderson.

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Jain was part of the core group formed immediately after the tragedy,which met each morning at 10 am in then Chief Secretary Brahma Swaroop’s office. Others in the group included Additional Chief Secretary M S Singh Deo and Environment Secretary A N Verma.

Within half-an-hour of the start of the meeting on December 7,1984,Jain recalls that Bhopal District Magistrate Moti Singh and Superintendent of Police Swaraj Puri rushed in to inform that they had arrested Anderson who had arrived by an Indian Airlines flight in the morning.

The two also apparently said they had informed Arjun Singh who had left for a political rally somewhere in western Madhya Pradesh.

When contacted,Moti Singh claimed that the instructions for the arrest had also come from the CM. But this was not known to Swaroop,who heard about it for the first time on December 7 morning in the presence of his three senior colleagues.

According to Jain,Swaroop asked the DM and SP to continue with the requisite legal proceedings after Puri said that Anderson had been lodged in a Union Carbide guest house on Shyamla Hills.

After an hour,as the core committee continued with its meeting,Arjun Singh called up Swaroop from the place he was holding a rally. According to what Swaroop shared with his colleagues later,Rajiv Gandhi was also present at that rally.

But at that time,the CM told Swaroop that while the arrest showed good initiative,Anderson had to be released at the earliest. Swaroop conveyed it was impossible to do so but,as he told his colleagues later,the CM’s orders were to “find a way to do so”.

Again,the DM and the SP were called to the meeting and were asked to find a way to release Anderson. They first expressed inability to do so and,therefore,the Law Secretary was called in. He too argued that this was not possible after the police had pressed charges against Anderson.

Around 1 pm,Arjun Singh again called up the Chief Secretary for an update. And here again,according to what Swaroop shared with his colleagues soon after the conversation,the CM was insistent and said he had to give a “compliance report to Rajiv Gandhi”. Later,Swaroop informed the core group members that Singh had even told him to arrange for a state government plane to transport him to Delhi upon release.

At that stage,the SP took the DM away and both discussed the matter. They returned and informed the group that they had found a way to carry out Singh’s orders. Thereafter,the orders were carried out. Additional Secretary M S Singh Deo,who was considered close to Arjun Singh,is said to have met the CM the next day after he returned from the rally. It was he who then disclosed to his colleagues that Rajiv Gandhi had told Singh after US President Ronald Reagan had personally intervened in the matter.

Moti Singh,on his part,still maintains that he was not aware on whose instructions the Chief Secretary gave the orders. “Around 2 pm,I got a call from Chief Secretary Brahma Swaroop asking us to reach his office where we were told to release Anderson. I am not sure whose orders the Chief Secretary was following.”

He claimed the Chief Secretary always “used to play safe” and would have done so only after taking a legal opinion. “He always used to play safe and would not have liked his decision being questioned.”

According to him,Arjun Singh had met him in the morning before leaving for the rally and had given the green signal for the arrest. Asked about the allegation levelled by Roop Swaroop,a relative of the deceased Chief Secretary,that the DM was an Arjun Singh man and was trying to save him,Moti Singh said: “It was Arjun Singh who ordered the arrest in the first place.”

Meanwhile,then Director Aviation R C Sodhi said a state government plane could never have left without the CM’s clearance. He said he had received a call from the CM’s secretariat asking for the plane to be kept ready. Hasan Ali,who piloted the plane,said it took him an hour and 35 minutes to reach Delhi where an Ambassador car came to the tarmac to receive the passenger. He claimed that he was never told about the identity of the passenger he was to fly.

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