Gas victims move to US courts, expect justice
National Mail (Bhopal) Monday, June 5, 2000

Bhopal: Gas victims are now hopeful of getting justice in the Courts of United States. Organisations of survivors of the Union Carbide disaster and other plaintiffs have filed a class action suit, against Union Carbide Corporation, USA, and its former chairman Warren Anderson in the Federal Court in New York.

According to these organizations and individuals that are fighting for justice and a better deal for the victims, this and other legal actions in the US courts carry the potential of delivering exemplary punishment to the principal authors of the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Himanshu Rajan Sharma, the New York-based attorney representing the survivors of Bhopal said that the suit was filed on November 15, 1999 in the Southern District of New York alleging that Union Carbide and its former chairman committed grave violations of international law and human rights arising from their "reckless and depraved indifference to human life" in perpetrating the disaster.

They said that the case is based on the Alien Tort Claims Act, a US law that permits foreigners to bring claims for violations of international law. The statute was originally enacted in 1789 to provide a remedy to foreign citizens injured by pirates, slave traders and other international outlaws. In another similar case filed against the American company, Unocal, US courts have already ruled that the ATCA can be used against a US private company if it engages in conduct that amounts to gross violations of human rights. Sharma also enumerated several grave breaches of international laws that he said were committed by the two defendants.

Recounting the achievements of the legal action in the US Abdul Jabbar, Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan stated that for the first time the US courts and international press has had to realize that Union Carbide and Anderson are indeed absconding from the criminal case in India. Ms Rashida Bi, President, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, expressed satisfaction over the fact that through this legal initiative Mr Anderson, a proclaimed absconder for the last eight years, was forced to submit himself to the judicial process albeit in the US courts.

Balkrishna Namdeo, Convenor, Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, stated that through this case Union Carbide’s continuing refusal to provide any scientific information on the leaked gases has also been presented to the US courts and world press for the first time. Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action pointed out that for the first time, the issue of the ongoing toxic exposure from contamination of soil and water around the factory site has been raised as another separate grounds for damages and relief of an environmental clean-up.

Sharma informed that among the defenses that Union Carbide has utilized so far are notices from the Ministry of Tourism that the site of its former factory is to be turned into a technology park for tourists; statements of Ms Maneka Gandhi in the Indian Parliament that the site is not polluted; and the Madhya Pradesh State Government’s press release claiming that the site of the Union Carbide factory is not contaminated. Sharma stated that the complaint against Union Carbide has been substantiated by affidavits from nine international legal experts including former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India PN Bhagwati. Professor Upendra Baxi, former Vice Chancellor of Delhi University has been a key person in inspiring research and action and in the preparation of the suit.