Tag Archives: Government of India

Pallone slams Dow in Congress

Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
Extension of Remarks
“Bhopal Resolution”
September 29, 2004 

Mr. Speaker, I introduced a resolution today in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbide Corporation gas leak that took place in Bhopal, India in December 2004.  This 1984 Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster is widely regarded as the worst peacetime environmental catastrophe in world history, and this important resolution expresses the commitment of the United States Congress to work with the Government of India and others to ensure that Union Carbide provides environmental and medical rehabilitation in Bhopal and is held responsible for its actions.

On the night of December 2, 1984, 27 tons of poisonous gas including methyl isocyanate leaked from a storage tank at the Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide plant in Bhopal and quickly spread to the surrounding residential areas.  Official estimates indicate a death toll of 3,000 lives in the aftermath of the disaster, with unofficial estimates putting the toll much higher at 8,000.  To date, the death toll has climbed to more than 20,000 lives.

Although it is now 20 years since the disaster, approximately 10-30 people continue to die every month in Bhopal from toxic exposure and 150,000 people continue to suffer long-term health consequences from the disaster.  The effects of the toxic gases also appear to be harming the next generation, as more overwhelming evidence is surfacing that points to higher incidence of health effects and birth-defects among children born to gas-affected people.

A host of international organizations and independent investigators have concluded that Union Carbide’s inadequate technology, double standards in safety and emergency-preparedness compounded by a reckless cost-cutting drive at the plant were the principal causes of the disaster.

Based on these investigations and other evidence, the authorities in India brought criminal charges against Union Carbide, its Indian subsidiary as well as local managers in 1987 for criminal negligence and reckless indifference leading to death.

In 1989, Union Carbide negotiated a settlement of $470 million with the Indian government that was based on inaccurate statistics about the scale and magnitude of the disaster in addition to being widely condemned by the media and responsible jurists in India as insufficient, even when compared to compensation awards provided for under Indian law. The Supreme Court of India in its judicial review of the settlement in October 1991 held that the criminal charges could not be overturned or dismissed based on the civil settlement and directed that the criminal prosecution against Union Carbide and the Indian accused must proceed in the courts of India.

When Union Carbide was served with a summons in the criminal case by the Bhopal District Court in 1992, and a notice to appear for trial was published in the Washington Post, Union Carbide’s spokesmen responded with a public statement that the company was not subject to the jurisdiction of India’s courts in disregard of universally accepted international law regarding criminal jurisdiction acknowledged by both the United States and India.  Based on its refusal to appear to face criminal charges against it, the Bhopal District Court issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Union Carbide, ordered that its remaining properties in India be attached to secure its appearance and declared that the company was a “proclaimed absconder” or fugitive from justice.

Union Carbide has recently become a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Corporation, which made the decision to acquire the company with full knowledge, according to its own public statements, of the criminal charges pending against it and Union Carbide’s status as an absconder or fugitive from justice.  Despite repeated public requests and protests around the world, Dow
Chemical has refused to make its new subsidiary appear before the Bhopal District Court to face the criminal charges pending against it for the disaster.

Like Union Carbide before it, Dow Chemical has, to date, continued to refuse to release all scientific research on the leaked gas, claiming that this information constitutes a commercial  “trade secret”.

Like Union Carbide before it, Dow Chemical has also continued to refuse to release all of its own medical research on the toxicology of the leaked chemicals and gases to date.  The lack of information on the gas has not only hindered the study of the long-term health and medical effects of exposure, but has left doctors with few options besides symptomatic treatment of the hundreds of thousands of gas-affected individuals and children.

The devastating health effects of the gas, the birth defects of their children and inability to work because of illness have forced many Bhopali families in desperate need of medical help into insurmountable debt.

Since 1999, at least three independent environmental surveys, including one conducted by state authorities in India, have shown that the former Union Carbide plant has badly polluted the soil and groundwater aquifer beneath it resulting in severe contamination of the drinking water supply of as many as 20,000 people living in residential colonies near the plant. One study found the presence of a large number of highly toxic pollutants in drinking water samples tested by the University of Exeter in the U.K. that were matched with chemicals found in soil samples from the Bhopal plant, including one carcinogenic chemical whose presence in the drinking water exceeded by 1,705
times the maximum limit allowed by the World Health Organization.

Another environmental survey was able to trace chemicals from the former Union Carbide plant in the breast milk of mothers living in the residential areas in the vicinity of the badly polluted site, which continues to leach pollutants into the groundwater aquifer to date. The land for the plant was leased from the State of Madhya Pradesh in India which stipulated that, upon termination, the land would be returned to the State in the condition that it was first leased and suitable for the use prescribed by the zoning regulations.  The state discovered that clean-up of the site until 1998 had been insufficient leaving thousands of metric tons of toxic wastes, chemical by-products, effluents, and other hazardous materials both above-ground on the premises of the factory and below ground in burial pits and landfills, all of which posed a grave threat to the surrounding population.

At least 10 residential areas in the vicinity of the former Union Carbide plant were found to have severely polluted drinking water according to these environmental studies and no substantive effort has been undertaken for environmental remediation of the area leaving water that has high levels of
mercury, dichlorobenzenes, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and other pollutants, toxins, and heavy metals. Soil samples from the area have found abnormal amounts of lead, nickel, copper, chromium, hexachlorocyclohexane, and chlorobenzenes.  Tainted water and the generally toxic living environments have lead to premature cancer, deformities, chromosomal aberrations, and other
disorders for Bhopali children.

There is a “polluter pays” principle enshrined in the domestic laws of both India and the United States as well as both domestic and international law which states that the polluter rather than the public agencies or taxpayers should be held responsible for its environmental pollution in its entirety.

International trade and ethical practices compel Dow Chemical to treat this matter very seriously and ensure that equitable treatment be afforded to the victims and their progeny.

Mr. Speaker, India is the largest democratic country in the world and enjoys a close and mutual friendship with the United States based on common values and common interests, and as a result, our countries should come together to recognize the gravity of the Bhopal disaster and the ongoing environmental problems in Bhopal caused by Union Carbide’s policies and practices.

I encourage my colleagues in the U.S. Congress to support this resolution and commit to working together with the Indian government, Dow Chemical Corporation, and the victims to ensure that Union Carbide provides complete medical, social, and economic rehabilitation to the victims of the disaster.  In addition, we should work together to ensure that Union Carbide undertakes a complete environmental remediation that restores the badly polluted plant site affected by this disaster to a habitable condition and fully remediates the drinking water supply of affected residential communities.  Lastly, we need to ensure that Union Carbide appears before the Bhopal District Court for prosecution on the criminal charges pending against it there, in accordance with principles of international law regarding criminal jurisdiction accepted by the world community including India and the United States.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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Don’t dump your wastes in our lungs

Survivors join Global Action against Waste Incineration, tell Dow, “get your poisonous waste out of Bhopal”

Bhopal-based members of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal today joined more than 100 groups around the world participating in a Global Day of Action against the disposal of wastes by burning. The Bhopal ICJB members called on the governments of India and Madhya Pradesh to ensure transparent procedures and safe technologies in the disposal of industrial and medical wastes.

Bhopal survivors’ organisations and their supporters demanded a copy of a report commissioned by the Government of India and produced by Engineers India Ltd, into the feasibility of containing above-ground wastes at the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal. They also condemned current proposals by the Government of Madhya Pradesh to install medical waste incinerators in hospitals meant for gas victims.

“Hospitals are meant to be places of healing. Incinerating medical waste in Bhopal will only increase the sickness and suffering of the survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster,” said Mrs. Rashida Bee, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh. “We demand immediate scrapping of the plans and installation of non-incinerator alternatives.”

The plan to install incinerators in government hospitals was reported to the local media by the Chief Medical Officer [Gas Relief]. It is well known that dioxins and furans, an inevitable byproduct of incineration, cause cancer, birth defects, and immune system suppression and disrupt the hormonal system.

According to Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, several safer alternatives, including solar treatment, autoclaving and deep burial exist to deal with medical wastes, and many hospitals in India have preferred such alternatives.

The survivors’ groups demanded the scrapping of any plans that involve permanent disposal of chemical wastes at or near the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal. “We hear of plans to dispose of the hazardous wastes in a landfill inside the factory premises. We will not allow Union Carbide’s poisons in our midst,” said Syed M Irfan, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha.

According to Shahid Noor from Bhopal ki Aawaaz, Union Carbide or its current owner Dow Chemical must take the poison away from Bhopal as was done by the US Unilever Corporation in the case of mercury waste in Kodaikanal in Tamilnadu last year.

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

Click here for more information on the Day of Action

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"Via Hand Delivery" – the text of the Government of India's letter to the US District Court, New York

June 28, 2004

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

Keenan
The only picture we can find of the Honorable Justice John Keenan
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

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"Bhopal: Was the Drama Necessary?"

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally intervened to make sure the Bhopalis got their chance for justice

Reprinted from The Hindu – Kalpana Sharma

A two-page press release, issued on June 23 by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, marked the end of a week of high drama. It stated that the Government of India had no objection to a U.S. Federal Court asking Union Carbide to clean up the mess it had left behind 20 years ago. It was also the culmination of three months of intensive campaigning by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) and Greenpeace. The March 17 U.S. Federal Court ruling was in response to a suit filed by some of the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, when methylisocyanate leaked from a plant run by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) killing thousands in its wake. The court ruled that the parent company, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), should clean up the abandoned and heavily contaminated site of the now closed plant. For this to happen, the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Centre had to state that they had no objection. What seemed on the surface to be a straightforward affair, particularly as it did not involve any costs to be borne by either Government, became a protracted affair with three people going on a fast unto death. Was all this necessary? Given the tame manner in which the drama finally ended, it would seem not.

The ICJB and Greenpeace launched their campaign first in Madhya Pradesh, urging the State Government to issue a letter of no objection. They were given the run around and told it was outside the jurisdiction of the State Government. On March 25, a delegation from Bhopal met the President and he expressed concern and support. After that nothing moved forward, partly because the country was by then in the election mode.<br
Launch of campaign

Finally, on May 8, a campaign to petition the Government was launched. By early June, the Prime Minister, who had only recently assumed office, was inundated with over 4,000 such petitions. On June 7, after months of lobbying, the Madhya Pradesh Government finally sent a letter to the Secretary of the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, saying it had no objection if the U.S. Court ordered Union Carbide to clean up the site and that this would be “in larger public interest.”<br
With this letter in hand, the activists then met the Union Chemicals Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, and he promised to take action. They waited for a week and on June 16 met the Union Law Minister, H.R. Bhardwaj. The latter apparently raised the non-issue of conflict with the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985. This law had allowed the Centre to represent the claims of the Bhopal victims and finally led to an out-of-court settlement with Union Carbide amounting to $470 million.<br
Despite the activists pointing out that this matter concerned pollution caused after the accident, the Law Ministry was unresponsive. In the meantime, several legal luminaries expressed the opinion that there was nothing in the law that need hold the Government back from issuing the letter.<br
By June 17, despite more reassurances from Mr. Paswan, the activists were beginning to despair. This is when three of them decided to go on a fast. Their decision caught the attention of the media, several members of the Government and leading trade unionists.

PMO’s intervention

None of this made a difference, however, until the Prime Minister’s Office intervened. On its advice, the Bhopal activists again met the Law Minister on June 21 and found, to their surprise, a complete turnabout. He said he had no problem but that the Ministry of Environment and Forests had to deal with this. The latter threw the ball back at the Law Ministry. Representatives from the campaigning groups sat in all the different Ministries — Law, Environment, Chemicals — and the PMO on June 22, waiting for some definite word. This finally came late June 23 in the form of the press release. The three broke their fast and everyone heaved a sigh of relief. But the story does not end here and there are many important lessons to be drawn.<br
First, the Bhopal campaigners succeeded because they had the ability to launch a campaign at different levels. There are many civil society groups without such support or such a high level of organisation. Their representatives sit on dharna at various locations in State capitals and in New Delhi and often neither the Government nor the media pays any heed to them.<br
Secondly, the Bhopal activists were lucky that they conducted their campaign at a time when there was a responsive Prime Minister who intervened. It is evident that without a word from his office, the matter would not have moved.<br
Third, the issue did not involve either the Madhya Pradesh Government or the Centre incurring any costs. They will be borne by Union Carbide according to the U.S. court’s ruling. This also made the issue somewhat simpler. Yet despite this last point, it is surprising that the Bhopal campaigners had to resort to all the tricks in their bag to finally get the Government to agree. The matter should never have reached this stage and could have been settled through dialogue. The fact that the campaigners had to push things to such an extreme illustrates yet again the gap in understanding between governments and activists. The former will not respond until the latter pushes the issue to an extreme. As a result, the latter become convinced that reasonable dialogue cannot work and only extreme pressure will.

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Government of India issues historic order, satyagrahis end fast

INDIAN GOVERNMENT BOWS TO PRESSURE, AGREES TO SUBMIT STATEMENT TO U.S. COURT IN THE UNION CARBIDE-BHOPAL CONTAMINATION CLEAN UP CASE.

New Delhi, June 23, 2004: Six days after three Bhopal activists began their hunger strike, the Government of India finally bowed to pressure and agreed to submit a statement to the New York District Court in the Bhopal contamination clean up case. This statement now has to reach the US Court before the deadline of June 30th. The activists have been assured that the New York Court has already been alerted by the Indian government.

Upon receiving this communication from the Prime Minister’s Office, the three activists who have been on a hunger strike since June 18th broke their fast in the presence of many trade union leaders and supporters including Swami Agnivesh.

“This statement brings us one step closer to a historic order by the US Court directing Union Carbide to clean up the toxic contamination in and around the factory premises in Bhopal,” said Satinath Sarangi, ICJB activist and one of those on hunger strike. “Such an Order will not only uphold the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle, but will set a precedence to hold multinational companies accountable in their home country for their actions abroad.”

More than 20,000 people from over 14 bastis have been affected by the serious contamination emanating from the tonnes of toxic chemicals and chemical waste dumped in and around the Union Carbide factory premises. They, and their supporters from around the world, now expect the US District Court to order Union Carbide to clean up the contamination at Bhopal to the best global standards possible.

“We hope that the Prime Minister who intervened in this matter will show the same kind of sensitivity and alacrity in dealing with other pending issues in Bhopal and in holding Union Carbide’s new owner Dow Chemicals liable for the pending issues in Bhopal. These include criminal justice as well as economic and medical rehabilitation issues of the gas leak-affected and contamination-affected people of Bhopal”, said Rasheeda Bi, winner of the Goldman Prize 2004, who has also been on hunger strike since June 18th along with Mr Shahid Noor. Mr Noor, orphaned by the gas leak in 1984, currently runs Bhopal Ki Awaaz, an organization for similarly orphaned persons.

Thousands of petition mails and faxes have been sent from the USA and many other countries including India to the concerned ministries and the Prime Minister urging them to act fast, and make good the opportunity provided by the US Court. Hundreds of Bhopal supporters who have also been on hunger strike in solidarity with the three activists fasting at Jantar Mantar, celebrated the good news by breaking their fast.

HUGE THANKS TO ALL WHO SENT EMAILS AND FAXES AND THOSE WHO JOINED THE HUNGER STRIKE AROUND THE WORLD.

For more information on the campaign, and to join the petition campaign, please visit:

https://www.bhopal.net, http://www.greenpeaceindia.org or http://www.studentsforbhopal.org

For further information:
Ms Rasheeda Bi, Mr Shahid Noor and Mr Satinath Sarangi: +91-98-102-02105 or +91-755-3132298; Ms Anuradha Saibaba on + 91-98-119-03172; Ms Vinuta Gopal on +91-98-455-35418 or Ms Kavitha Kuruganti on +91-80-36882103

You can send an email to the following addresses:

vgopal@dialb.greenpeace.org; campaigns@theothermedia.org; kavitha_kuruganti@yahoo.com
agniveshpic.jpg
Swami Agnivesh, one of many leaders who came to be with the Satyagrahis when they ended their fast earlier today in New Delhi.

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