The Economic Times, May 30, 2008
NEW DELHI: The government has finally lent an ear to the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. But coming after 25 years it’s certainly a case of too little too late. The government has accepted “in principle” their demand to set up a commission to carry out medical, economic, social and environmental rehabilitation of the victims. However, dissatisfaction persists as demands of legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals are yet to be met.
Reading out the prime minister’s statement, minister of state (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan said central government is “in principle” in agreement on the demand for a specially empowered committee and that the matter of legal action against Dow Chemicals on environment and health of the surviving victims is still pending before the Madhya Pradesh High Court. “The department of chemicals and petrochemicals has already filed an application requesting the court to direct Dow Chemicals Company, and associated companies, to deposit Rs 100 crore as advance for environmental remediation. The central government will take further action as per the decision of the court,” Mr Chavan said.
Three organisations—Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, and Bhopal Group for Information and Action—have been leading the struggle for rehabilitation and justice. There are two set of demands: first, the commission for rehabilitation; and second, legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide in 2001.
The demand for legal action includes pursuing the ministry of chemicals application in the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking money from Dow Chemicals for toxic clean up in Bhopal. This has been met. However, the other three issues under legal action have not been addressed. These include extradition of former Union Carbide chairperson Warren Anderson and the authorised representative of Union Carbide Corporation; revoking the approval given to Reliance Industries for purchase of Union Carbide’s Unipol technology which is intellectual property that should be confiscated because the corporation is absconding since 1992; and the cancellation of the registration for all four pesticides, including Dursban, that were obtained by Dow Chemical by bribing agriculture ministry officials as established by the US Securities & Exchange Commission.
The first has been agreed to “in principle”. On the second, the government has said that the demands have not yet been agreed upon. Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action said, “we are continuing with our protest. It would appear that the government would want us to walk away after fulfiling one of our demands and forget the rest.”
The organisations are apprehensive about the final course of action in holding Dow Chemicals responsible. Apprehensions are justified. Union Carbide and Mr Anderson, both of whom face charges of culpable homicide and grievous assault, are absconding from Indian courts since 1992. The union ministry of commerce and industry has in the meantime approved collaboration between Reliance Industries and Dow Chemicals for the transfer of Union Carbide-owned and patented technology. This inspite of opposition from ministry of chemicals.
The apprehension that the judicial matter may not be resolved in favour of the gas tragedy victims persists despite a PMO internal memo which quotes the law ministry opinion clearly holding Dow Chemicals legally liable for actions of Union Carbide. Activists say that there is a clear message that the biggest objection to resolving the matter comes from the ministry of commerce and industry.
“There is a lot of pressure from the commerce ministry and the American lobby to let Dow off the hook. For two years now the ministry of chemicals has been communicating to us about the pressure that the ministry of commerce is bearing upon the case,” sources said. Mr Chavan assured that the outstanding demands would be resolved soon. Sources said that a meeting has been slated for June 3 for a conclusion on all demands. The meeting will be attended by the ministry of chemical and petrochemicals, ministry of external affairs, and CBI, DIPB.