BHOPAL TRAGEDY part II
Tomorrow: Business as usual? Union Carbide shields former chairman, says
mishap was caused by internal sabotage, but refuses to name the saboteur
Delhi's apathy: compensation yet to reach victims
Asian Age website http://www.asianage.com
San Francisco, May 27: Activists working with victims of the Bhopal gas
tragedy feel that while it was bad enough that the Indian government agreed to a measly
$470 million as compensation for a chemical disaster billed as the worst in the world,
what makes matters worse is the government's apathy on the distribution of this money to
"If an incident like that had happened in the US, the company would have been forced to shut down. Instead a measly compensation was agreed on. This amount is ridiculous and reflects what the global community thinks an Indian life is worth compared to an American one," said Ann Leonard, co-director of Essential Action, a Washington DC-based organisation that works with activists battling abusive multi-national companies in Third World countries.
"More than half of the victims have not seen the money Carbide had to pay as a result of the civil case. This is a fallout of a failure of the Indian government to pursue charges against the company," said Corey Conn, coordinator of the International Alliance for Justice in Bhopal.
The Indian government had, in 1985, claimed compensation upwards of $3.3 billion on behalf of the victims. Activists allege that four years later it "colluded with Union Carbide" and agreed to settle for $470 million without consulting the victims.
"In our view the amount of compensation is too paltry to provide anywhere near adequate compensation. Currently what people get is not enough to pay medical bills for 5 years. These people are likely to be ill all their lives. The compensation is also too small to have any deterrent effect on the corporation which remained virtually unscathed after causing the worst
industrial disaster in history," Satinath Sarangi, founder of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, told The Asian Age in an interview from Bhopal.
The $470million (Rs.715 crores) has since grown about three times with accrued interest. " So far less than Rs. 1,000 crores has been distributed to well over 400,000 claimants," Mr Sarangi said.
Asked how prompt the Indian government had been in ensuring that the compensation was properly disbursed, Mr Sarangi said: "In the last more than eight years the government of India, irrespective of the political party in power, has not taken a single step to ensure that Warren Anderson (former Union Carbide chairman) and Union Carbide cease absconding and face trial in an Indian court. In June 1997 the government of India and the US signed an extradition treaty. It was said that the treaty would be used to ensure that terrorists do not escape justice. However, the Indian government is yet to move on extraditing the corporate terrorists responsible for the massacre in Bhopal."
He added that the Indian government's utter lack of political will seemed to come from its fear that such a move would jeopardise the investment climate for transnational corporations.
Union Carbide maintains that the final settlement in this case is many times larger than any damage awarded in the history of India. It claims this is also $120 million more than the settlement accepted in a US court by US attorneys for Indian victims. US attorneys had sued in American courts for more than $50 billion. They ultimately told the US court that $350 million was a fair settlement. The Supreme Court of India had ruled that the $470 million settlement was "just, equitable and reasonable."
Mr Tomm Sprick, manager communications at Union Carbide, said the $470 million compensation was handed over to the Indian government soon after the civil suit was settled. "We don't know how much of this has actually been handed over to the victims but it would have grown to billions of dollars over all these years," he said.
Ms Leonard placed the blame squarely on the Indian government saying it had done a very poor job of handling the case and continued to do a poor job to protect its people from further abuse. Saying that one would have thought the Bhopal disaster would have been adequate warning, she noted with concern that the Indian government continued to woo some shoddy MNCs and that there were many "mini Bhopals waiting to happen."
"What's even more scary is that while thousands of people have been murdered in India, it's business as usual for Union Carbide," she added.
By Ashish Kumar Sen
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