BHOPAL SURVIVORS CALL FOR ACTION AGAINST TATA GROUP
Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata has written to the Indian Government offering to set up a fund to clean up toxic wastes and contamination in and around the Union Carbide’s abandoned pesticide factory in Bhopal, according to a January 17, 2007, article in the Indian Express. On the face of it, this may seem like an offer of good-will. But it is meant solely to let Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical off the hook. The article says Tata made this offer “for “remediation” of the Bhopal gas tragedy site to pave the way for Dow Chemicals. . .to invest in India.” Ratan Tata heads the US-India CEO Forum, a high-powered club of Indian and American industry leaders that seeks to redesign Indian laws and policies to make them friendly to big business. Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow Chemical is also a member of the Forum.
The Tata family has a history of allying with imperial powers. In pre-independence India, the Tata family had helped East India Company smuggle opium to China. They served the British Army during their invasion of Ethiopia. Tatas also named their textile factory in Nagpur “Empress Mills” honouring Queen Victoria. In 1984, Tata family patriarch JRD Tata had criticized Indian Government for arresting Carbide’s chairman Warren Anderson. Decisions taken by Warren Anderson authorizing the installation of untested and inherently hazardous technology in a thickly populated neighbourhood in Bhopal contributed significantly to the scale of the disaster. Tata Consulting Engineers had executed an engineering contract for Union Carbide’s disastrous Bhopal factory.
If Ratan Tata was truly interested in the well-being of Bhopal survivors, he need not have waited 22 years to make this offer. Even stranger is for Ratan Tata to offer to clear Dow Chemical and Union Carbide’s liabilities, while numerous sites owned by Tata companies – such as in the chromite mines of Sukhinda (Orissa), Rallis pesticide factory in Patancheru (Andhrapradesh), Tata salt works in Mithapur (Gujarat), and coalfields near Bokaro (Jharkhand) — suffer as serious or even worse pollution than the Bhopal site. Polluter Pays is an established principle of law. If polluters are allowed to go unpunished, there will be no incentive for industries to be careful.
YOU CAN HELP
We, the survivors of the Bhopal disaster, appeal to you to join us in demanding that Ratan Tata withdraws his proposal on Bhopal. You can do one of many things:
1. Organise a boycott of Tata salt and tea [or Tata products such as Tata Indicom mobiles] 2. Call Tata Sons at Bombay House. Tel: +91 22 66657924. Ask for Christabelle Noronha, Vice President (Media). Email: email@example.com
3. Organise public demonstrations in front of Tata offices and factories.
4. Students/Youth: Email firstname.lastname@example.org communicating your decision to not work for any Tata group companies unless Tata withdraws its offer on Bhopal.
Whatever you do, please communicate to us at: email@example.com
Union Carbide is known as the Butcher of Bhopal. In December 1984, Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal leaked a poisonous gas and killed more than 8000 people within days. Since then, the death toll has risen to more than 20,000. The disaster happened because the Carbide had installed an inherently dangerous technology, and dismantled safety systems to save costs.
Immediately after the disaster, the Central Bureau of Investigation pressed criminal charges against Union Carbide Corporation and its senior executives. However, no progress has been made on the criminal case against UCC because the company has refused to honour the summons of Indian courts. It was declared an absconder in 1992.
In its hurry to flee India and run back to the United States, UCC abandoned several thousand tons of toxic wastes in and around its factory site in Bhopal. Those poisons have leaked into the groundwater. Now, more than 25,000 people are forced to drink water laced with Carbide’s poisons. The most immediate need in Bhopal is for clean water for these communities. Simultaneously, the Indian Government needs to force Union Carbide, or its new owner Dow Chemical, to pay for clean-up of the toxic wastes and the damages caused by it to people’s health and properties.
THE OFFICIAL POSITION
The Government of India has written to a US Court indicating that the offending corporation would need to pay for clean-up. Also, the Union Ministry of Chemicals has filed an application in the Madhya Pradesh High Court asking Dow Chemical to pay Rs. 100 crore (Rs. 1 billion) toward clean-up. The Technical Sub-committee of a Task Force set up by the MP High Court to look into the Bhopal contamination has unanimously concluded that the priority option to deal with the hazardous wastes is to ask Dow Chemical to ship it to USA for final disposal.
AMERICAN THREATS – BHOPALI RESPONSE
The US Government has warned the Indian Government that any action against the American multinational will harm American investments in India. However, Bhopal survivors and their supporters have resolved that Union Carbide and Dow Chemical will not be allowed to do business in India until the criminal liabilities and issues relating to toxic waste and related health and property damage are resolved.
THE SILENT DISASTER
The Bhopal factory site is a Global Toxic Hotspot. People knew about Union Carbide’s pollution from and environmental contamination by Union Carbide several years before the disaster. Evidence at hand confirms that Union Carbide knew about the leaching of poisons into the groundwater as early as 1981. Carbide scientists knew about the severe toxicity of the groundwater in 1989. A 1999 study by Greenpeace reported presence of neurotoxic mercury 6 million (60 lakh) times higher than normal. Carbon tetrachloride, a suspected carcinogen, exceeded limits set by World Health Organisation by 1705 times. However, Union Carbide chose to remain silent and even deny contamination. As a result, numerous people, primarily children, are suffering. Numerous children are being born with serious deformities and health problems, such as cerebral palsy, cleft lip, missing palate, and missing digits.
TATA’S ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD
The Tata group of companies have a dismal environmental record. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India had singled out Tata’s Chromite mines in Sukhinda, Orissa for causing widespread pollution and health damage. Similarly, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes has passed strong comments against waste disposal by Rallis – a Tata company manufacturing pesticides in Patancheru, near Hyderabad. In Mithapur, Gujarat, Tata’s factories have contaminated ground water and destroyed agriculture in several villages. In Jamshedpur, where the Tatas run a steel plant, thousands of tons of boiler ash containing toxic heavy metals are dumped in the middle of the city at Jugsalai. Tata’s collieries at West Bokaro in Jharkhand have contributed to the irreparable damage caused to the Bokaro river. In the Gulf of Kutch, Tata Chemicals is accused running an effluent pipe line through a reserve forest and a sanctuary.
Given the widespread environmental pollution by the Tatas, it is small wonder that Mr Ratan Tata is trying to subvert the Polluter Pays principle in Bhopal which could well be a powerful precedent against corporate crimes against the environment.
For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit: www.bhopal.net or www.studentsforbhopal.org
House No. 60, Near Cold Storage, Union Carbide Road, Chhola, Bhopal