|Press Statement - August 31, 2000
Bhopal survivors condemn dismissal of their law suit in NY
Survivors of the December 1984 poison gas leak disaster in Bhopal today condemned the August 28 decision of the Federal court in New York that dismissed their class action suit against Union Carbide Corporation, USA. The suit was filed by seven individual victims and five survivors and activist organizations in November 1999 to seek redress for the "crimes against humanity" committed by the corporation and its former chairman Mr Warren Anderson. Opposing the suit, Union Carbide had called for dismissal of the case through a summary judgement.
In a press conference organized by survivors and activist organizations today, Mr Abdul Jabbar, Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) said, "This decision of the US Federal court belongs right there in the Global Hall of Shame. Mr Jabbar mentioned that back in May 1986 the US court had acceded to Union Carbide's pleas and sent the case for compensation to the Indian courts. "By denying justice to the victims of the world's worst industrial disaster a second time now, this US court lies thoroughly exposed as a corporate lackey."
The activists faulted the recent decision on several counts. According to Mr Sandeep Sharma, a local lawyer working in support of survivors organizations: "By dismissing the class action suit on the basis of the February 1989 settlement, the US court has re-victimized the victims of injustice by the Supreme Court of India." Mr Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) expressed dismay that the US court had, "overlooked the depraved indifference to human life and health in the continuing contamination of drinking water sources by Union Carbide's chemicals."
Elaborating on the legal response to the decision Mr Jabbar said, "We are already looking in to the best ways to challenge it. There are still various ways and several fora in which we can hope to overturn this shameful summary judgement." For the survivors organizations the Supreme Court of India's revision of the 1989 settlement order remains an inspiration to continue with the longest battle of industrial victims in history. In the revised and final judgement delivered on October 3, 1991, the Indian Supreme court had reinstated the criminal charges of homicide and other serious offences against Union Carbide and its officials.
"When we got the Supreme Court of India's settlement order of letting the corporate criminals go scot free, we were crushed", said Rashida Bi, President of the Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal, "but then we challenged it and two and a half years later, we won." It is as a consequence of the final order of the Supreme Court that Union Carbide and Warren Anderson continue to be "proclaimed absconders" in the eyes of the Indian judiciary. Leaders of the survivors organizations pointed out that the recently dismissed class action suit was moved in the context of the failure of the Indian government to prosecute the offending corporation.
Despite the obvious despair, survivors organizations were still hopeful that this loss will not stand in the way of their final victory. They see the potential merger of Union Carbide with Dow Chemicals as presenting greater opportunities for securing justice. "We have recently learnt that the still pending class action suit against the Dow management is called 'Dow Chemical Securities-Bhopal Litigation' " said Rashida Bi, " if Union Carbide gives us the slip we will turn to Dow." Mr Jabbar stated that legally the pending criminal and other liabilities will be automatically shifted to Dow after their merger. "Union Carbide may have sold off its shares in India but Dow has four subsidiaries here in this country. We will soon take legal and extra-legal action against them." Mr Sandeep Sharma confirmed that similar to laws in the US, under Indian law a corporation merging with another inherits its liabilities.
In another part of the city over a hundred members of the two survivors organizations marched with a coffin and a lady holding a balance. The lady symbolizing justice was draped in the colours of the US national flag and a black cloth covered her eyes. The balance the lady held was tilted on the side that had a stuffed cloth bag symbolising the power of wealth. The inscription on the hastily built coffin read, "Here lies justice in Bhopal, dealt a near mortal blow by a US court on November 28, 2000. Shortly to be revived and restored by survivors and their supporters worldwide." The marchers chanted "Ladengey, jeetengey, haar key moohn sey jeet chhinengey" - (We will fight, we will win. We will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat).
Here lies justice in Bhopal,
August 28, 2000
To be revived and restored shortly by