I won’t pay a penny to Bhopal gas attack victims

Our thanks to Shobhan Saxena, for sending us this piece he wrote for his column in The Times of India. –––––––––––––

Because the line between democracy and manipulation is very thin, at times it becomes blurred. Today, this line dissolved completely as the Group of Ministers (GoM) reportedly recommended a number of steps to cool down the public anger over the last week’s ridiculous judgment in the Bhopal gas disaster case. The recommendations, according to reports, are: Compensation to the tune of Rs 10 lakh for the families of those killed in this crime; Rs 5 lakh for those crippled for life; and Rs 3 lakh for people with partial disability. On the issue of cleaning up tonnes of toxic waste buried at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, the GoM is believed to have recommended that the Madhya Pradesh government would do the dirty job with financial help from the Centre. And on the issue of Warren Anderson, the group has decided to make a “valiant attempt” to get the criminal-in-chief extradited from US to India.

If the recent Bhopal judgment was shameful, the GoM recommendations are outrageous. Now, the betrayal of Bhopal, and India, is complete.

With the Central government planning to set aside Rs 1,500 crore for compensation to Bhopal victims – 25,000 dead and 500,000 crippled and two generations poisoned forever – it’s now clear that the government of this country is going to rob Peter to pay Paul. This money will be taken from our – the Indian taxpayers’ – pocket and given to the Bhopal victims. The money for the clean up of toxic chemicals, which have been poisoning Bhopal’s air, soil, water and even the city’s soul, will also come from our pockets. In one stroke, home minister P Chidambaram-led GoM has given a clean chit to Union Carbide and its successor Dow Chemicals. Now, these corporations don’t have to worry about paying any money to the victims of the world’s worst ever industrial accident, which happened because the Union Carbide dumped outdated technology in the heart of Bhopal, paid no attention to its maintenance, ignored warnings about gas leakage, cut funds and staff at the cost of safety and gave itself a clean chit even as bodies of poor Indians were piling up at the cremations grounds and graveyards of Bhopal in December 1984. So, when poor Indians die because of actions of a rich American corporation, it’s the poor Indians who bear the burden of destruction. And the government pretends that it cares for the people.

Now, it seems the government of this country is more loyal to American corporations than the people of this poor, wretched country. What could be the reasons for this shameful behaviour? Is it because of the government’s fear that prosecution of American companies in India will vitiate the investment climate in this country? Or is it because of the fact that Dow Chemicals has paid enough money in bribes to powerful people in India to make sure that it doesn’t have to pay any compensation anymore. A shocking report in a magazine this week said that Dow Chemicals was “penalised by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, for paying $200,000 in bribes to Indian officials to fast-track the registration of their controversial pesticide Dursban (which it sells for residential use in India though it is banned everywhere else).” Dow got out of this trouble by paying $325,000 as penalty to the American SEC.

The government of this country has remained silent on this bribery issue. It has also remained silent on various commitments it made to courts and people of this country:

— On June 28th, 2004, the Indian government wrote to a New York court that as per the ‘polluter pays’ principle recognized by both the US and India, “Union Carbide should bear all of the financial burden and cost for the purpose of environmental clean-up and remediation. The Union of India and the State Government of Madhya Pradesh shall not bear any financial burden for this purpose.”

— On February 2, 2008, the Ministry of Law told the Prime Minister’s Office that irrespective of the manner in which UCC (Union Carbide Corporation) has merged or has been acquired by Dow Chemical, if there is any legal liability it would have to be borne by Dow Chemical.”

The GoM recommendations completely violate these commitments. The UCC and Dow Chemicals have been freed of all the liability. The financial burden has been dumped on the poor Indian taxpayer. Why on earth should we pay for the crime of Union Carbide? Why should UC officials — in India and US — be allowed to go scot-free?

The Bhopal case is not just about compensation and money. It’s also about justice. It’s also about all the liability issues that may arise in the future. With today’s decision, Chidambaram’s GoM has told the foreign MNCs that India’s investment climate is good – come here, mint money, exploit people, kill them if you wish and we guarantee that you will have no liabilities – financial, legal and criminal.

This is a slap on the face of all those people who have been fighting for justice for Bhopal for the past 26 years. It’s an insult to the memory of those who lost their lives in this crime. It’s also an insult to those poor people who have knocked at the doors of the government, judiciary and big corporations in order to get justice. It’s a challenge to those who still believe in the idea of India despite the travesty of justice in this country everyday.

This money for compensation as well as for the clean up of UC plant at Bhopal must be recovered from Union Carbide’s successor Dow Chemicals. I don’t want to pay a penny to Bhopal victims from my pocket. I am not a penny-pinching sucker, but I refuse to be part of this second gas attack on the people of Bhopal. I refuse to accept the government’s squandering of public money as private funds. I refuse to be part of this charade in the name of democracy, which is being reduced to manipulating people’s emotions in this country.

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