The Prime Minister
Government of India
New Delhi 110 001

October 31 2000

Sub: Demand for support of the Government of India to the legal action of the survivors of the Bhopal disaster in the US courts

We take this opportunity to present an offer to the Government of India to provide concrete and effective support to the survivors of the December '84 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal. In the context of the long history of deliberate negligence of the Indian government with regard to issues of justice in Bhopal, in this memorandum, we suggest a means through which the Indian government can redeem itself. In the last sixteen years, the cause of justice and welfare of the victims of Bhopal has been betrayed again and again by successive governments. We describe below the facts, circumstances and imperatives that present to you an occasion to demonstrate the credentials of the present government.

You may recall that following the disaster Union Carbide Corporation, USA and its officials including former chairman, Warren Anderson have been charged with homicide and other serious offences for their principal role in the industrial massacre. Anderson, arrested immediately after the disaster jumped bail and has been absconding the ongoing criminal proceedings. Representatives of Union Carbide have followed suit, daring a third world judiciary to take penal action against a giant multinational. Sixteen years have passed and while the victims are in a condition possibly worse than in the morning of the disaster, the culprits of the Bhopal massacre, roam free.

Legal action in the US courts
For legal redress of this terrible wrong done to us; seven individuals and five organizations, including ours, filed a class action suit on November 15, 1999 in the Federal District Court of New York against Union Carbide Corporation and its former Chairman Warren Anderson. The suit charged the Corporation and the official with grave violations of international law and human rights arising from their "reckless and depraved indifference to human life" in perpetrating the disaster. In the context of Union Carbide and Anderson absconding justice in Indian courts the suit invoked the Alien Tort Claims Act, an US law that permits foreigners to bring claims against a US private company committing gross violations of human rights. Our case is being represented by the New York based law firm Goodkind, Labaton, Rudoff and Sucharow reputed for their success in cases of large public interest.

Achievements of the legal action
Within few months of initiating this legal action the following were achieved:

  1. For the first time the US courts and international press had to realize that Union Carbide and Anderson are indeed absconding from the criminal case in India instituted by the Government of India.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Decision on the suit and further action
On August 28, 2000 judge Mr. John F. Keenan dismissed the suit mainly on the ground that the Bhopal Act [Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985] prevented individuals or organizations outside the Government of India from bringing an action against Union Carbide or its official. Quite clearly this interpretation of the Bhopal Act is incorrect as a matter of law based on the Indian Supreme Court's authoritative interpretation of the Act. Further it is contrary to international law as well as the public policy of the United States and India. In view of the travesty of justice in the wrongful dismissal of the case we have recently filed an appeal before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Support expected from the Government of India
As can be inferred from above the support of the Indian government is crucial to the success of the appeal filed before the Second Circuit. To help clear the misinterpretation with regard to the Bhopal Act, the Indian government must present an "amicus curiae" brief that outlines the background, objective and scope of the Act. This brief would not make the Government of India a party in the case and does not call for a long term commitment. All that we require is for the Government to present the facts, judicial interpretations and the spirit behind the Bhopal Act.

Why must the Government of India support the Bhopal survivors struggle for justice
Allow us to present the most recent [October 16, 2000] chemical assault by Union Carbide Corporation in our neighbouring country Sri Lanka. At Ja-Ela, 20 miles north of Colombo, Union Carbide's factory leaked poisonous gases causing over one thousand people to be hospitalized with respiratory and eye disorders and injury to many more. The factory, situated amidst populous settlements was found to have contaminated the soil and ground water of neighbouring communities. Union Carbide blamed one of its employees for the accident.

In the hazardous nature of the plant, its unsafe location, health consequences of management's reckless conduct and attempts to evade liability this situation is very much reminiscent of the disaster in Bhopal. It may come as a shock to you but the Indian government is as much liable for this recurrence of Bhopal as the offending multinational. Through its deliberate negligence in prosecuting Union Carbide for its crimes in Bhopal it has sent a strong message to this and other multinationals that they can damage the lives and health of people in countries of the South with impunity.

While the absconding of the prime accused in the criminal case on Bhopal is deserving of universal contempt, the role of the Indian government is far from being above reproach. Over eight years have passed since the Bhopal District Court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Anderson. Despite the relentless demands of the survivors of Bhopal, none among the successive Prime Ministers have taken the tiniest step to extradite the prime accused of the worst industrial disaster in history.

If there is to be any public credibility with regard to the "nationalist" image that your government is trying to project, the first significant step would be to ensure that you refuse to continue as an accomplice to the unpunished crimes of Bhopal. In this context supporting our legal action in the US courts is a moral imperative.

In these times of globalization our government is rolling the red carpet for such chemical behemoths as Dow Chemicals, DuPont, Novartis and Bayer all with long record of causing massive human devastation and environmental damage. For good reason there is now a nationwide concern over the present government's agenda of turning India into a plaything of foreign capital. There is widespread fear that the sovereignty of the nation is being compromised with the unrestricted entrance of multinationals. As you are well aware, these concerns are now more strident than ever. The case against Union Carbide provides an opportunity to the Indian government to allay such apprehensions and thus can be viewed as a political imperative.

We request your personal and urgent intervention in this matter so that an "Amicus Curae" brief is filed in the US court with the minimum delay.

Awaiting an early response from you.

Thanking you.

Yours sincerely,

Abdul Jabbar Rashida Bi Satinath Sarangi
Convenor President Member
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Contact address:
51, Rajendra Nagar Bhopal 462 010
Telephone: 242727