Survivor's Organisations Press Release
Organizations of survivors of the December 84 Union Carbide disaster and other plaintiffs in the class action suit filed against Union Carbide Corporation, USA and its former chairman Warren Anderson in the federal Court in New York today briefed media persons on the progress of the case and other recent developments. 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 worlds worst industrial disaster.
Mr Himanshu Rajan Sharma, the New York-based attorney representing the survivors of Bhopal, who was also present at the meeting gave details of the class action suit. He 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.
According to Mr Sharma, 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 The statute was originally enacted in 1789 to provide a remedy to foreign citizens injured by pirates, slave traders and other international outlaws.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. Mr Sharma also enumerated several grave breaches of international laws that he said were committed by the two defendants.
Mr Sharma is a graduate from the Washington College of Law with further studies in international law in London and Paris. He has been doing legal research on the Bhopal case in association with the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan and the Bhopal Group for Information and Action for the last four years. Mr Sharma works for Goodkind, Labaton, Rudoff and Sucharow, a New York based law firm representing among others the victims of the Holocaust against twelve French banks.
Recounting the achievements of the legal action in the US Mr 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. Mrs. 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.
Mr Balkrishna Namdeo, Convenor, Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, stated that through this case Union Carbides 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. Mr 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.
Mr 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 Smt. Maneka Gandhi in the Indian Parliament that the site is not polluted; and the Madhya Pradesh state governments press release claiming that the site of the Union Carbide factory is not contaminated.
Mr 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 Mr P N 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.
Mr Sharma also presented information on a separate law suit filed by his firm on behalf of shareholders of Dow Chemicals challenging the impending merger of Dow with Union Carbide. The suit filed against Dow and its 17 officials seeks damages for causing potential financial damage to shareholders. It alleges that by not taking Union Carbides financial liabilities on the Bhopal case into consideration the management has made an excessive offer to Union Carbide. Mr Sharma informed that as per established US corporate Law the criminal liabilities of Union Carbide will be passed on to Dow in the event of a successful merger. He said that because of its four subsidiaries and its plans to invest in India as a future potential market Dow can ill afford to abscond justice in India.
Representatives of survivors organizations announced that they are launching a nationwide campaign against Dow Chemicals Indian subsidiaries located at Mumbai and Chennai. If Dow goes ahead with the murderous merger, they will have to face the rage of the Bhopal victims, Mr Jabbar said.
Six of the seven individual plaintiffs in the class action suit namely Mrs Sajida Bano, Mr Sunil Kumar, Dr Stanley Norton, Mr Asad Khan, Mr Shiv Narayan Maithil and Mr Devendra Kumar Yadav were also present at the press conference. Sajida Bano lost her husband Mr Ashraf Mohammed, worker in the Bhopal Union Carbide factory in December 1981, in an accident arising from reckless design and management. Her son died from Carbides gases on the morning of December 3, 1984. Sunil lost seven members of his family and is still under constant medication for his health problems.
Dr Norton former Principal of MVM College has suffered permanent injuries to his lungs, heart, neuromuscular and other systems. Asad Khan who was only seven year old at the time of the disaster suffers from exposure related chronic heart ailments. Mr Maithil, a teacher, has been diagnosed with oesophegal cancer caused by exposure to Carbides gases. Mr Yadav lost his new born son five months after the disaster. The seventh plaintiff, Mrs Haseena Bi a gas victim who settled near the Carbide factory in 1990, suffered additional health injuries from contaminated drinking water. In the class action suit the plaintiffs represent themselves and all other victims similarly placed as well as potential future victims of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal.
Contact address : 51, Rajendra Nagar, Bhopal 462 010