Times of India, 1 Jul 2007
NEW DELHI: There is outrage and shock among thousands of victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, and in colonies surrounding the closed Union Carbide plant, over the move for an out-of-court settlement between the Government of India and Dow Chemical Company on cleaning up the contaminated site as reported yesterday in TOI. Activist groups working among the victims say that without a proper scientific assessment of the extent of environmental impact and damage to people’s health through groundwater pollution, it is impossible to arrive at a fair settlement.
According to N D Jayaprakash, convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti (BGPSSS), which along with two other organisations has been fighting the protracted legal battle in courts, once Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA, which is accused No.11 in the Bhopal gas leak disaster criminal case, became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company (TDCC), USA, on February 6, 2001, TDCC has to take on the liability of UCC.
The whole controversy has erupted again because of two pending aspects of the 23-year old tragedy in which 15,000 people died and over 5 lakh suffered health damages. One is the ongoing criminal case in the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Bhopal in which Warren Anderson, the then head of UCC and the two corporate bodies — UCC and UCIL — are co-defendants with some others. The second issue is of the poisonous chemical waste — 44,000 kg of tarry residue and 25,000 kg of alpha naphthol — lying in the abandoned premises of the pesticide plant. Various studies have established that the soil, groundwater, vegetables and even breast milk of women in surrounding localities have traces of toxic chemicals.
Dow Chemicals is a $49-billion giant with 43,000 employees and operations in 175 countries. Any out-of-court settlement may absolve Dow Chemicals, the successor of UCC, from both aspects — criminal liability and cleaning up of the site and compensating the victims of the ongoing contamination.
According to BGPSSS, on January 6, 2005, the CJM, Bhopal issued notice to Dow Chemicals to appear before the court in the criminal case. The MP HC at Jabalpur stayed the order. BGPSSS and others filed an application for vacation of the stay, which is still pending before the high court.
With regard to the cleaning up of the contaminated site, the High Court had set up a technical sub-committee of scientists to assist the task force set up to propose a plan for remediation of contaminated area in and around the former UCIL plant site. According to BGPSSS, two members of the sub-committee – Dr P M Bhargava and Dr J P Singh – urged that “the first option should be to apply the ‘polluter pays’ principle and hence, disposal of toxic waste should be undertaken by the polluter, viz. successors of Union Carbide Corporation, M/s Dow Chemicals Co.” However, the sub-committee ignored this view and recommended that incineration is the only way of getting rid of the waste, without going into the issue of responsibility.
According to Jayaprakash, the present move for an out-of-court settlement would pave the way for cleaning up the site without “giving justice to those who had suffered from contamination due to negligence of the companies (UCC and Dow)”.