Five Human Rights Defenders ( including three women ) of Dalit Foundation ( India) arrested and remanded to judicial custody on false charges on India’s 64th Independence Day ( 15th August 2010 ) in Tirunelveli District of Tamilnadu. Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director of People’s Watch has also been identified as an ‘absconding accused’ by the police in the same criminal case.
Mr Justice Ahmadi, the Supreme Court justice who controversially reduced criminal charges against the Indian accused in the Union Carbide Gas Tragedy trial, has resigned. Cynics may say that in doing so he hopes to escape further scrutiny of his actions in favour of Union Carbide Corporation, at the time an absconder from the same case.
In response to UCC’s failure to appear in the Bhopal court, its assets in India, including its majority shareholding in Union Carbide India Limited, were seized by the court.
But in February 1994 Mr Justice Ahmadi overruled the Bhopal court and permitted UCC’s shares to be sold. The proceeds were to be used to create a super hospital for the gas victims. Upon Ahmadi’s retirement from the Supreme Court, he became Chair of the Trustees of the richly endowed Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, which his own decision had brought into being.
Survivors’ organisations allege that Ahmadi’s action effectively allowed Union Carbide Corporation to escape from India and Indian justice by wiping the Bhopal asset off its books. Meanwhile the lucratively endowed hospital over which Ahmadi subsequently presided was involved in a string of controversies involving the bad treatment of gas victims, who were reportedly referred to by hospital staff as “gassies”. Gas victims were also given substandard medications and turned away in favour of rich paying patients.
People sick from the water contamination were not treated at all, while doctors enjoyed a lavish swimming pool and other luxuries.
Ahmadi resigned as Chair of the BMHRC on June 20, 2010, less than two weeks after the Bhopal verdict and the public anger over the lenient sentencing based on the charges he had reduced to the level of a street traffic accident. No doubt he hoped that this would forestall media scrutiny of his actions in letting Union Carbide off the Bhopal hook.
The Supreme Court has now taken steps wind up the Trust and run the hospital directly. In accepting Ahmadi’s resignation letter, the bench said it appreciated the “good service” rendered by Justice Ahmadi in running the trust for the last 12 years.
Justice Ahmadi was appointed as the chairman of the BMHT on May 15, 1998. Following a Supreme Court order of March 1992, Union Carbide Corporation set up a trust fund in London and endowed it with the princely sum of £1,000. Sir Ian Percival, former attorney general under Margaret Thatcher, was appointed as its sole trustee. All remaining money came from the sale of the UCIL shares and grants of land by the then Madhya Pradesh government. After the death of Percival, the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust was constituted with Ahmadi presiding.
OUTLOOK INDIA, July 5, 2010. Union Carbide’s brazen, criminal disregard for safety nauseates still. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on his way back from the recent G-20 summit in Toronto, righteously declared his desire to push for a “more favourable” US attitude to extradite former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson. But as his government begins to push for it, which past Congress and BJP governments have failed to do, those monitoring the bitter aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy say it’s not a paucity of factual evidence—to establish Anderson’s guilt of cutting costs on safety measures—but the lack of political will to take on the Americans that impedes his extradition.
Those looking for facts don’t have to look much beyond Bhopal: The Inside Story, a book by T.R. Chouhan, who was one of the operators of the mic plant and was present on site on the night of the disaster. First published in 1997, the book details how the management of the plant was cutting down on safety measures to make up for losses. “Cutting costs in fact began with the design of the plant. The design was unproven and they were using measures that hadn’t been tried out in their plant in the US. The double standards were clear,” he tells Outlook on the phone from Bhopal, where he now works as a government employee.
[pullquote]“Cutting costs began with the plant design. They used measures untried in the US. Double standards were clear.”T.R. Chouhan, Eyewitness, Writer[/pullquote]
In fact, campaigners have stressed that the plant in Bhopal was “always underfunded, always second-best” compared to Carbide’s plant in West Virginia, despite the company’s claims to the contrary. Chouhan’s book lists some of the key design downgrades in the Bhopal plant that compromised on safety. These include the presence of atmospheric vents in the methyl isocynate (MIC) tank (through which the gas escaped), something that was not present in the W. Virginia plant. Safety measures like the vent gas scrubber (VGS), used to neutralise toxic release, and flare towers (FT), to burn MIC vapours, had back-ups for continuous protection in the US. This was not so in Bhopal. In fact, the VGS was not operational and the FT was under repair on December 3, 1984. Moreover, hazardous operations, like addition of 1-Naphthol into the MIC reactor, were done manually, which they didn’t dare try in the US. Likewise, there was an evacuation plan for the community living next door in W. Virginia, but not for the one in Bhopal.
The plant in Bhopal produced MIC, a chemical compound used to make pesticides, and stored large quantities of it—much more than permitted—on site. This was because there was a glut of Sevin, Carbide’s MIC-based pesticide, in the market. Yet, Carbide officials in the US and India threw caution to the wind. The most important, yet elementary, safety tool not switched on that night was refrigeration. The unit, explains Chouhan, was turned off that night. In fact, it was never switched on for nearly a year to cut down on costs of electricity and coolants. The savings were just about $37 each day. In its absence, the MIC was at an ideal temperature for a corrosive reaction, whereas the MIC manual had strongly advised keeping it below 5 degree Celsius. Even the temperature censor and alarm for the MIC storage tank had not been working for four years. “We raised all these problems with the local management but were never heard,” Chouhan says.
International campaigners have unearthed various Carbide documents to prove the corporation’s desire to economise on safety measures. In one such document, Carbide states openly how the newer, cheaper and untried manufacturing processes being adopted in Bhopal were an “acceptable business risk”. Things only got worse with mounting losses and growing competition. In 1981, the ‘Bhopal Task Force’ at Carbide was constituted to cut costs, as Carbide’s global profits plummeted from $800 million to just $79 million. Between 1978-83, the Bhopal plant had run up losses of $7.5 million (total investment in it was around $30 million). In February 1984, Union Carbide Eastern vice-president R. Natarajan shot off an angry letter asking “what UCC is going to do to resolve the problem”. Manpower was cut—as many as 335 persons lost their jobs at the plant—and training became sparse. Chouhan exposes how the number of trained personnel was declining, and that in 1984, for the first time, there were more transferees from elsewhere (“with less expertise”) working at the plant. In November 1984, there weren’t even any maintenance supervisors. Before the tragedy, plans were being put together to move the Sevin formulation unit to Indonesia and the phosgene, carbon monoxide and MIC units to Brazil.
Also, any claim that Anderson was unaware about safety problems is unfounded. Robert Oldford, a close colleague of Anderson, was personally informed of the safety-related incidents by local employees in Bhopal when he was there in February 1982, about two months after the first death of a UCIL employee in December. And Anderson, campaigners say, was personally involved in the cost-cutting drive and had openly stated that “intensification of training programs, et cetera, will never happen again”.
But it isn’t just the Bhopal plant which was subject to such obstinate disregard for safety. An internal Carbide report, with a very upfront title—‘Our Ten-Year Safety Failure’—details how safety, or rather the lack of it, had become a nagging issue for its operations in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico between 1959 and 1968. “Had this report been made public then, the 1966 agreement for the Bhopal plant between the Indian government and Union Carbide, and the subsequent granting of industrial licence, would not have happened,” says Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance.
Its writer and Carbide employee R.T. Bradley pointed out that the firm had become the most hazardous employer among the “big seven” chemicals firms, “maiming people at twice the rate of others”. There was an urgent need for “sound investment” to reduce injuries and ensuing losses at its plants, he added. Bradley ended it with a plea that the firm, instead of being “dollar-oriented”, should focus on the “humanitarian aspect”. Evidently, his advice went unheeded. Ultimately, it was Carbide’s mercenary desire to save as little as $37 each day that led to the tragedy, one that remains painfully unresolved even today.
BHOPAL.NET OPINION. On the face of it, the Group of Ministers’ recommendations seem attractive. 700 crores in “enhanced compensation”, site to be cleaned, Anderson pursued – it sounds good, until you examine the details. Then it becomes clear that these proposals, while seeking to salve the public’s sorely wounded pride, actually do little or nothing for the Bhopalis. Survivors are calling it “another betrayal”.
1. “ENHANCED COMPENSATION”: 93% OF VICTIMS WILL GET NOTHING”
There are 572,000 officially registered victims of Union Carbide’s gases.
The 700 crore rupees of compensation will be shared among 45,166 people who have lost relatives or suffered certains sorts of injury. (1) More than 525,000 victims are excluded. [pullquote]93% of Union Carbide’s officially registered victims will get nothing but a notional Rs 2/- per head from the insulting June 7 judgement. [/pullquote] Of these many are seriously ill with conditions not covered by the government’s method of claims assessment. See here.
2. THE EXTRADITION OF WARREN ANDERSON IS A RED HERRING TO PROTECT DOW
Warren Anderson is 91 years old. It is a foregone conclusion that the US administration will refuse an extradition request, so there is no risk in making this promise.
The government could and should be pursuing Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide Eastern, accused alongside Warren Anderson, and like him absconding from justice since 1992. But there is no mention of them. The reason is undoubtedly to protect Dow Chemical. [pullquote] UCC still exists as a legal entity wholly owned by Dow, which is not only allowed to do business openly in India but, as recent media reports have shown, to direct government policy making.[/pullquote]
While the extent of Anderson’s direct involvement has been questioned by the US administration, there can be no doubt about the roles of UCC and UCE in directly causing the gas catastrophe.
The ICJB does not oppose attempting to extradite Anderson, but it demands that UCC and UCE should also be pursued on the charge of “culpable homicide”. If found guilty, they would at least be compelled to pay more than two rupees per victim.
3. DOW CHEMICAL LIABILITY FOR CLEAN UP TO BE DETERMINED BY COURT.
Dow claims it had nothing to do with UCIL. But UCIL was majority-owned by Union Carbide Corporation which thus shares the major part of the responsibility for the contamination and failure to clean up. When Dow acquired Union Carbide’s assets, it also acquired its “polluter pays” liabilities.
[pullquote right]If UCC is liable, Dow is liable. This is the opinion of India’s Ministry of Law. But Dow is strongly protected by its lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who also happens to be Congress Spokesman and part of the Manmohan Singh inner circle. He sees no conflict of interest. Do you?[/pullquote]
Dow has admitted routinely bribing Indian officials to get a banned pesticide certified as safe, yet no action is taken against it. Dow used bribery to gain certification for its pesticide Dursban which is so dangerous to children that it is banned for home use in the US. In India it is sold as safe. The government has not taken any steps either to punish the company for bribing officials, or to take Dursban off the home market.
In the 1990s Dow paid more than $10 million to the family of an infant, Joshua Herb, who had been damaged by Dursban. What will damaged Indian children get?
4. THE CLEAN UP TO BE BASED ON NEERI’S RECOMMENDATIONS. NEERI SAYS THERE IS NO GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION OUTSIDE THE FACTORY SITE
NEEERI’s statement is at odds with numerous reports from Greenpeace and other organisations, including two published last December. [pullquote]While relying on discredited, incompetent NEERI the UPA-II government is ignoring an offer from the EU Parliament to fund a thorough and impartial study of the nature and extent of contamination to the highest scientific standards.[/pullquote]NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur) is a discredited organisation whose slipshod methods and careless conclusions during a 1990s survey of the contamination were severely criticised by US consultancy Arthur D Little which had ironically been retained by Union Carbide Corporation in Danbury to advise Union Carbide India Limited.
Carbide executives privately ridiculed NEERI’s work while recognising that it was the pet of the MPPCB (Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board) which was opposed to the involvement of ADL. [pullquote right]The rate of birth defects in places where the water is contaminated is running at 10 times that of the rest of India.[/pullquote]No surprise then, when in 2001 MPPCB chairman V K Jain was exposed as having amassed money and jewellery worth 15 crores of rupees by corrupt methods. The entire MPPCB board was dissolved.
5. NEERI RECOMMEND BURYING TOXIC WASTE INSIDE THE FACTORY
The proposal to bury the waste on the site itself under NEERI’s direction is the final folly. It will not be done to a proper standard and the groundwater pollution will be exacerbated instead of contained. [pullquote]Says US attorney Raj Sharma, “NEERI was responsible for the creation of the leaking landfill in the solar evaporation ponds. They rubber stamped everything that UCC proposed. This plan will be a disaster in its own right if effectuated.[/pullquote]
THE GoM HAS IGNORED THE SURVIVORS’ DEMAND FOR AN EMPOWERED COMMISSION. MONEY TO BE GIVEN TO STATE GOVERNMENT
The Group of Ministers is thus reneging on a promise its immediate predecessor made to the survivors two years ago. The GoM minutes reveal no mention of a reliable mechanism to deliver social, economic, medical rehabilitation for gas survivors and their children. Nor does it make any proposals for the relief of those whose lives have been blighted by the poisoned water. The families of the children born damaged will get no compensation, no help of any kind.
While ignoring the promise made earlier to the survivors the confidential minutes of the GoM meeting reveal that it proposes to hand a huge wad of cash, some 700 crores of rupees to the MP state government. Cynics will note that years after hundreds of crores were poured by the Centre into State coffers for the creation of jobs for gas survivors, not a single job has been created, not a single person has been employed.
No doubt tailors in Bhopal and elsewhere are busily deepening and strengthening pockets.
Calling the Group of Minister’s offer of compensation a smokescreen, all seven organizations for survivors’ rights have strongly condemned the recommendations of the Group of Ministers on Bhopal. The Group of Ministers pretends to offer relief and rehabilitation but the details reveal that issues of compensation, rehabilitation and corporate liability are totally ignored. The organizations said that the recommendations demonstrate more concern for the welfare of American corporations than for Bhopal survivors.
The organizations said that the compensation recommended by the Group of Ministers will go to less than 10% of people known to be exposed to Union Carbide’s toxic gases. “The GoM has based its decision on the notoriously flawed system of damage assessment that was designed to downplay and diminish the death and injury caused by Union Carbide Corporation. It has made no recommendations regarding review of death claims or registration of exposure related death claims after 1997, when such registration was arbitrarily stopped. “The GoM has denied any additional compensation to 521,000 [91%] survivors who received a paltry sum of Rs. 25, 000 for life long injuries,” said Abdul Jabbar, convenor of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.
The Group of Ministers has gone back on its June 2008 decision to concede Bhopalis long-standing demand to set up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal to oversee rehabilitation. Instead, it proposes to transfer Rs. 720 crores to the Madhya Pradesh Government for medical, economic, social, and environmental rehabilitation. “More than Rs. 530 crores have already been spent by the M.P. Government in the name of relief and rehabilitation, and there is nothing to show for this. The Rs. 720 crores will go the same way – into the pockets of the Ministers and bureaucrats” said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. “The Madhya Pradesh Government’s list of equipment to buy includes fictitious equipment such as ‘automatic micro-organism detection instruments’ and ‘identification & sensitivity of micro organism” that cost more than 35 lakhs,” Dhingra added. “The Group of Ministers could just as well put the money straight into these bureaucrats’ pockets and save on overhead costs.”
The organizations also expressed dismay that the GoM has failed to recommend action for extraditing the authorized representatives of Union Carbide Corporation, USA and Union Carbide Eastern, Incorporated that is now reincarnated as Union Carbide Asia Pacific Inc. and Union Carbide Asia Ltd. “As 100% percent owner of Union Carbide, USA, Dow Chemical is guilty of sheltering a fugitive from justice punishable by 3 years imprisonment under Sec 212 of the Indian Penal Code and the Group of Ministers has made no directions regarding the summons against Dow Chemical issued by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal District Court, on January 6, 2005,” said Balkrishna Namdeo, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Sangharsh Morcha.
The Group of Ministers has also failed to recommend any action to make Dow Chemical pay for the clean up of the thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste and extensive damage to human health caused by contamination of ground water. “The Group of Ministers and in particular certain members of it who are known to be Dow Chemical’s agents have made appropriate noises but their money is not where their mouth is,” said Safreen Khan of Children Against Dow Carbide. It has decided to spend Rs. 300 crores of public money towards removal of toxic waste — something which is the legal responsibility of Dow Chemical.” Survivors’ organizations pointed out that Dow Chemical, through its lawyer Abhishek M. Singhvi, has refused to accept jurisdiction of the Madhya Pradesh High Court for the last six years. Despite this, the Group of Ministers has not made a single recommendation towards making Dow Chemical answerable to Indian courts, even as the company continues to do business in India. “This clearly displays an intention by the government to let Dow Chemical off the hook and is just as criminal as the act as helping Anderson escape justice. It is in fact a greater crime because Dow Chemical’s ongoing environmental disaster continues to maim and kill people, including the unborn, as we speak today,” said Rashida Bi, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh.
The organizations said that the recommendations of the Group of Ministers are designed to please the US-India CEO Forum, that is meeting today in Washington, DC. Survivors’ organizations point out that the Group of Minister’s recommendation of spending money from the public exchequer to address the lingering issue of toxic contamination follows from one of the founding principles of the US-India CEO Forum that prescribes a “specific focus on resolving legacy issues such as those impacting Dow / Bhopal tragedy of 1984 … to send a strong positive signal to US investors.” (http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/USIndia.pdf)
The organizations said that the GoM’s recommendations demonstrate the failure of the media attention and public awareness to change the UPA government’s priorities of FDI over the survival of ordinary people in this country. They said that hundreds of survivors will be traveling to New Delhi tomorrow to place their concerns before the Cabinet Committee that is expected to issue directives based on the recommendations of the GoM in its meeting on June 25, 2010.
Children Against Dow-Carbide