Midland Daily News editorial, October 15, 2004 about Congressman Pallone's Bill introduced to Congress on September 29, 2004

Our view: Congress not the right venue for discussion on Bhopal incident

While we don't dispute that the environmental contamination stemming from an industrial accident in Bhopal, India in 1984 was the responsibility of Union Carbide at the time it occurred, and that there still are arguments between the company, the Indian courts, the Indian government and some of those injured by the accident, we don't think the U.S. Congress should be an additional venue for deciding who is right and who is wrong.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), who founded the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, has gone a step too far, we believe. He has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that asks Union Carbide to clean the contaminated site, remediate the drinking water supply and appear before the Bhopal District Court for prosecution in pending criminal charges in relation to the incident that killed an estimated 20,000 people since Dec. 2, 1984.

This would be all nice and well, we suppose, if there hadn't already been an agreement between Union Carbide and the Indian government in 1989 that absolved the company of all existing and future claims in exchange for $470 million.

And all nice and well, too, if the Indian government hadn't bought the site in Madhya Pradesh -- the state government where Bhopal is located -- and taken responsibility for the property in 1998, saying it would clean it up.

Since the leak, accidents and victims have been pressing whoever will listen that their cause is just. Apparently Pallone has been swayed. This is not justice sought, but a political manuever. We have heard persuasive arguments from both sides of the debate. While we sympathize with the victims, we believe the court system is the place for the debate, with its appreciation for the application of law.

As Pallone himself states: We're both democratic countries. As such, we both should appreciate that application.


ICJB reply to the above

The ICJB's reply to the Midland Daily News editorial

Dear Editor,

On behalf of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, we would like to submit an explanation of why we cannot share the opinion expressed in your editorial of October 15, 2004. That opinion expressed a number of factual and legal inaccuracies that need to be corrected.

Your editorial describes the present environmental contamination which is the subject of litigation in the courts of the United States as "stemming from an industrial accident in Bhopal, India in 1984." That is simply incorrect. In fact, there is an overwhelming consensus that this environmental contamination bears no relation whatsoever to the catastrophe that occurred in 1984. The U.S. court of appeals has expressly concluded so twice, as have the U.S. District Court, the Indian government and even Union Carbide which has never argued to dismiss claims for this environmental contamination on those grounds. We urge the editors of your newspaper to join this overwhelming consensus.

Your editorial suggests that Congressman Pallone "has gone a step too far" in introducing a resolution on Bhopal in the U.S. Congress which should not become "an additional venue for deciding who is right and who is wrong."

Unfortunately, that opinion might be more persuasive if Union Carbide and Dow Chemical shared your view that "the court system is the place for the debate, with its appreciation for the application of law." Instead, both Union Carbide and Dow Chemical have flagrantly refused to comply with the orders of the courts in this matter, refusing to even appear before the Bhopal District Court to face trial on criminal charges despite repeated summons since 1992.

This intransigent posture is based on little more than hypocrisy because, as you may recall, it was Union Carbide who strenuously and very publicly argued that all matters relating to Bhopal must be resolved by the courts of India. In light of these undisputed facts, it seems that intervention by Congressman Pallone and members of the U.S. Congress is fully warranted precisely in order to ensure that this matter is resolved by the courts in accordance with law.

Your editorial erroneously refers to the settlement between the Indian government and Union Carbide as "absolving" the company of "all existing and future claims." The fact is that the only claims that can possibly be "absolved" by that settlement are civil claims arising from the 1984 gas disaster itself. The settlement has no relevance to the environmental contamination now being addressed by the US courts or to the criminal charges pending against Union Carbide in India. If Union Carbide truly believed otherwise, it would have argued so before the courts of the United States or India. The fact that it has consistently refused to do so speaks volumes about the merits of this assertion.

Finally, the editorial argues that the Indian government has "bought the site in Madhya Pradesh" and "taken responsibility for the property in 1998, saying it would clean it up." Neither of these statements are factually correct. The Indian government has never bought the site for the simple reason that Union Carbide never owned it. The land was leased from the State of Madhya Pradesh and one of the conditions of that lease was to return the property in the same environmental condition in which it was leased. Union Carbide arranged for the lease to be relinquished to authorities in 1998 but has admitted that it failed to comply with the environmental requirements of that lease.

The Indian government has, in fact, taken responsibility for the property and its clean-up. It has done so by making a submission on June 23, 2004 in the U.S. courts arguing that, in accordance with the "polluter pays" principle enshrined in Indian and American law, Union Carbide must be made to undertake and pay for the comprehensive environmental clean-up that is needed to resolve this problem.

Given those realities, it is unfair to simply dismiss Mr. Pallone's efforts to address these issues in the U.S. Congress as a "political maneuver." In the face of blatant disregard for the law as is shown by Dow-Carbide, it is essential for conscientious politicians like Mr. Frank Pallone to weigh in.

You may dismiss Mr. Pallone's move as a "political maneuver." But maneuvers, such as this advance the public interest, are what all politicians should be doing.