Organisations working with the survivors of the December 1984 Union Carbide disaster held a celebratory party for S Muralidhar, the survivors’ lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.
As counsel for Mrs Rashida Bee, Mrs Champa Devi Shukla and 34 other victims of Carbide’s gases, Muralidhar had moved a Writ arguing that undistributed compensation money held without explanation in the Reserve Bank of India for the last 15 years should be distributed among the 500,000 plus survivors. On July 19, 2004 the Supreme Court directed that the monies, amounting to Rs. 1,503 crores (€266 million, £180 million, US$324 million) belonged to the gas victims and should be given to them. Divided between more than half a million people, this isn’t Eldorado, in many cases it will not cover what people have spent on medicines, but it is nonetheless a great victory and was celebrated as such in the bastis and bidonvilles of Bhopal.
At the party, held in Chhola Naka near the Union Carbide factory, hundreds of gas victims garlanded Mr. Muralidhar amidst the sound of drums, cheering and clapping. Mr. Muralidhar in his speech advised the gas victims to deposit the money they receive in accounts in post offices. He cautioned the people not to give in to officials who might demand bribes and to put the money towards long term benefits. He assured that he would continue to fight for the rights of the gas victims. Mrs Rashida Bee and Mrs Champa Devi thanked Mr. Muralidhar on behalf of the residents of the 36 gas affected wards.<br Rashida Bi, Champa Devi Shukla, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh Syed M Irfan, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha Shahid Noor, Bhopal ki Aawaaz Satinath Sarangi, Rachna Dhingra, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Unlicensed moneylenders in Bhopal have begun charging interest rates of up to 150% in anticipation of a payout amounting to Rs 1,503 crores (€266 million, £180 million, US$324 million) to more 560,000 surviving victims of the Union Carbide gas disaster. The survivors are also likely to be targetted by corrupt officials. Many of the gas victims are unschooled people, not able to read or write, unfamiliar with legalese and the demands of bureaucracy. They are easy prey for unscrupulus officials.
For these reasons leaders of survivors’ organisations today welcomed the proposals of the Welfare Commissioner relating to the distribution of the compensation fund. A delegation of the leaders met the Collector in the city and presented 10 suggestions which they said would help set up a corruption-free, transparent, simple and rapid system of distribution the money.
The leaders suggested that survivors’ organisations should form a Monitoring Committee that would have the right to oversee the registration and claims process, and resolve complaints of corruption, misbehaviour or incompetence against officials. They also urged that procedures for obtaining copies of necessary documents, which for all sorts of reasons may are unavailable to claimants, must be spelt out clearly.
During their discussion with the Collector, the delegation of Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla, Shahid Noor and others emphasised the need for a system of registration and resolution of complaints against employees at the Claim courts and banks and demanded action against the money-lenders and loan sharks. The delegation suggested that names and photos of local touts be published in the claims court, so claimants can recognise and avoid them.
The leaders were satisfied with the arrangement of reserving Saturdays exclusively for people who could not come to the Claim court on the scheduled day of their hearing. They also welcomed the plans for employing people at every ward to answer queries, particularly from non-literate people.
Rashida Bi, Champa Devi Shukla, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Syed M Irfan, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Shahid Noor, Bhopal ki Aawaaz
Satinath Sarangi, Rachna Dhingra, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
19 July, 2004, Bhopal In a major victory for the Bhopal survivors, the Supreme Court today ordered the Government of India to distribute the balance of compensation remaining from Union Carbide’s settlement among the 566,876 Bhopal survivors whose claims have been successfully settled. The balance of the hitherto undistributed compensation has accumulated interest and grown to Rs. 1,505 crores (some $327 million).
Survivors whose claims may have been wrongly dismissed or who were underpaid were directed by the court to file a separate application, and seek compensation from the Government of India. The case, argued by Advocate S. Muralidhar, was filed on 5 March 2003 by 36 petitioners representing one gas-affected wards each.
While this is a real victory for the survivors and their supporters, they have been made to wait nearly twenty years since the night of terror. The average payout will still only amount to $570 per person which, despite Dow-Carbide’s now famous dictum that “$500 is plenty good for an Indian”, comes nowhere near meeting the costs of medical treatment that survivors have already had to fund for themselves, much less compensating for two decades of illness, loss of livelihood and fear for what new horrors may emerge in their bodies.
It is a further setback for the Dow-Carbide corporation and its political accomplices in India, who are on record as demanding that this money, meant for the relief of the survivors, should be used to clean up the company’s abandoned and polluted factory in Bhopal. Last month, the Government of India threw its weight behind a court action to force Dow-Carbide to bear the full costs of cleaning the plant. (See stories below)<br
Needless to say, today the Bhopalis are jubilant. This evening, the city will be in a celebratory mood – a large, colourful juloos is planned. The media has set upon them, and a press conference is being held at 5 p.m. Bhopal time.
VIA HAND DELIVERY United States District Judge John F Keenan United States District Court Southern District of New York 500 Pearl Street, New York, New York 100007-1312
Re : Bano et al v. Union Carbide 99 Civ. 11329 [JFK]
TO THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT :
On behalf of the Union of India and as its duly authorized consular representative in the United States of America, we submit this letter in the above, referenced matter to present the official position of the sovereign government of India with regard to environmental remediation of the land and premises formerly occupied by the Union carbide plant in Bhopal, India.
The union of India submits that neither the Madhya Pradesh State Government or its instrumentalities nor the Union of India has any objection to any such relief for environmental remediation of the former Union Carbide plant premises in Bhopal being ordered or directed by a competent court or tribunal of the United States. Further, the Union of India and the Madhya Pradesh State Government and their respective instrumentalities will cooperate with any such relief as and when issued by the United States District Court. The Union of India will monitor and supervise such environmental remediation including decommissioning of plant and machinery, remediation / disposal of contaminated soil and appropriate disposal of toxic chemicals and wastes on the plant site by Union Carbide in order to ensure that it is undertaken in compliance with the norms parameters laid down by a specific organization of the Government of India, the Central Pollution Control Board, for that purpose.
Union Carbide will also be held responsible for any loss/damages caused to life or property in the process of remediation and disposal. Pursuant to the “polluter pays” principle recognized by both the United States and India, Union Carbide should bear all of the financial burden and cost for the purpose of environmental clean up and remediation. The Union of India and the State Government of Madhya Pradesh shall not bear any financial burden for this purpose.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, nothing in this official statement on behalf of the Union of India may be construed or read, by implication or otherwise, as an intention to submit either the Union of India or the Madhya Pradesh Government to the jurisdiction of the United State Government of Madhya Pradesh are entitled to sovereign immunity under international law and do not waive those immunities by this submission.
In addition, nothing in this submission should be construed, by implication or otherwise, to convey any authority to plaintiff in the above matter to assert or pursue claims on behalf of the Union of India or State Government of Madhya Pradesh nor shall the plaintiffs in the above referenced matter be entitled, by virtue of this submission, to assert or pursue any claims against either the Union of India or the Madhya Pradesh Government in the litigation or before the US District Court.
Finally, it is the official position of the Union of India that the previous settlement of claims concerning the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster between Union Carbide and Union of India has no legal bearing on or relation whatsoever to the environmental contamination issue raised in the case at bar. Nothing in this submission should be construed, by implication or otherwise, as an 8intention to reopen or question the validity of that previous settlement.
Accordingly, the Union of India hereby formally urges the US District Court to order such relief, as required by the US Court of Appeals Second Circuit in this matter.
Respectfully submitted Consul General of India Consulate General of India 3 East, 64th Street New York, New York 10021-7097
In a highly important development, the Indian Supreme Court has asked the Reserve Bank of India to account for the colossal sum of Rs.8.85 billion ‘missing’ from the corpus of gas compensation money deposited by Union Carbide and its subsidiary Union Carbide India in 1989. The explanation, which should prove utterly fascinating, cannot come soon enough.