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.
Pallone himself states: We're both democratic countries. As
such, we both should appreciate that application.
ICJB reply to the above
ICJB's reply to the Midland Daily News editorial
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
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."
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
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.
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.