The recent “clean up Union Carbide’s Bhopal factory” petition filed out of the blue in the Madhya Pradesh High Court was a move masterminded by Dow itself, say Bhopal survivors, and the governments of India and Madhya Pradesh agree.
The High Court’s latest order states: It is brought to the notice of the Court that a few NGOs who have been agitating for securing the rights of the victims of Bhopal Gas Disaster for taking action against the persons responsible for the disaster, are apprehensive that the fourth respondent (DOW Chemicals Company) may escape liability if the entire remediation work is carried out by the Central/State Governments . . . The State/Central Governments also have a doubt that the petitioner may be a person set up by DOW Chemicals Company to file the PIL so as to avoid responsibility for the clean up task.
The petitioner here referred to is one Aloke Pratap Singh, who demanded that in the interest of public health, local government should begin an immediate clean-up of the Union Carbide factory, which has poisoned soil and groundwater and contaminated the drinking supplies of 20,000 people.
The petition was granted, and to the fury of survivors’ groups, a hasty and shoddy “clean-up” duly began, with no regard either for the safety of workers employed to carry it out, or for local inhabitants many of whom were hospitalised by clouds of toxic dust raised by the incompetent contractor.
Survivors have maintained from the beginning that Singh’s petition was a Dow-inspired spoiling tactic aimed at getting the corporation off the hook in New York where a class action suit filed by survivors against Union Carbide is now moving towards a climax.
If the New York case goes against them, Union Carbide and its 100% owners Dow Chemical face a potential bill of hundreds of millions of dollars for cleaning up their abandoned and polluted factory site.
The government of India, representing the government of Madhya Pradesh has already sent a letter to the New York court holding Dow/Union Carbide wholly responsible for the costs of remediating the polluted site, and stating that it has no objection should the court order Dow/Union Carbide to carry out the work.
Dow’s ingenious and cynical idea is to transfer these liabilities to the local government by getting the High Court to order, as it has done, that a clean-up be immediately begun.
The ploy will not work, because the MP High Court, governments of India and Madhya Pradesh and survivors’ groups are unanimous that whatever costs are incurred, even of a cursory containment of surface wastes, must be borne by Dow/Union Carbide.
It is also dawning on the Indian authorities that the much-needed clean-up of soil and groundwater should be carried out to the highest international standards, to the standards which would apply if the factory was for example in Buffalo instead of Bhopal. The expertise needed simply does not exist in India, which is another reason why Dow/Union Carbide, who poisoned the soil and water in the first place, who left behind thousands of tons of lethal pesticides, who know the chemicals involved because they manufactured them, are logically the only people who can be asked to clean them up.
Read the full High Court order here.