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Talking points: why justice cannot prevail

According to Eveready Industries, the successor to Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), there was never any danger of a judgement against the company, consequently no need to provide financially for that eventuality. Whence comes this overweening confidence?

“Trial proceedings before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal, on the modified charges framed under the directions of the Supreme Court that commenced in September 1997, are yet to be concluded. As per advice of legal counsel, allegations against the Company are without any firm basis and possibilities of proceedings against the Company, succeeding are extremely remote. Since the charges are very likely to fail, no provision is necessary at this stage.”

Unaudited Standalone Financial Results (Provisional) for the Quarter and year ended March 31, 2010

Will justice be done in Bhopal on June 7, 2010? Read on.

Qu. 1. Will justice be done in Bhopal on June 7?

Justice in Bhopal will be done only if the individuals and corporations responsible for the death of over 25 thousand and toxic exposure and damage to over half a million people are punished in an exemplary manner. The punishment accorded to the individual corporate officials and the corporations must be of such that it deters other corporations and corporate officials from being recklessly indifferent to human life and health.

We think that even if the verdict on June 7 is fully against the nine accused, justice will not be any where near done on the world’s worst corporate massacre.

Firstly, the prime accused in this case are Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), and Warren Anderson and both are absconding from Indian courts since 1992. In the last 18 years, the CBI has not taken the tiniest step to get the authorized representatives of UCC, USA extradited and has made only one unsuccessful attempt in 2003 to get Anderson extradited. The third foreign accused, Union Carbide Eastern Limited, Hong Kong, deregistered itself in 1992 without ever appearing in court and the CBI has not taken any action against this absconding accused. Only a concurrent trial of the foreign accused can adequately address the nature and extent of the crimes committed in the disaster in Bhopal.

Secondly, the charges against the accused are much weaker than they should be. There is ample evidence that individual officials and the corporate boards demonstrated reckless indifference towards the lives and health of the workers in the factory and people in the city. They were manifestly aware that the technology employed in Bhopal was exceptionally hazardous, that cost cutting measures had made it more hazardous still, that 30 major hazards had been identified through a safety audit and that safety and maintenance had been run down to a threadbare basis in advance of an intended sell-off. Yet the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) decided to charge Union Carbide and its officials only with criminal negligence.

For their criminal indifference to human life and health, Union Carbide and its officials should have been charged with culpable homicide (Sec. 300 Part IV of Indian Penal Code punishable by life imprisonment) for running the factory knowing that it was so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.

Thirdly, because of an unjust order of the Supreme Court and the CBI’s inaction, the criminal charges against the Indian corporation and its officials have been further diluted. The order of Justice A M Ahmadi delivered on September 13, 1996 brought down the charge from Sec. 304 Part II of Indian Penal Code (IPC) to Sec. 304 A of the IPC without considering the evidence of the culpability of Union Carbide India Limited and its officials. By reducing the Bhopal disaster to the equivalent of a traffic accident the prison term for the crimes of Bhopal was brought down from 10 years to 2 years. Further, a conviction under Sec. 304 A, does not necessarily lead to imprisonment. It could well be reduced to criminal fines.

Finally, because the CBI has done a shoddy job of prosecuting the Indian corporation and its officials, it is very doubtful that the verdict on June 7 will be fully against the accused.

2. How has the CBI fulfilled its role as a prosecutor?

The CBI has done a shoddy job of prosecuting the Indian and the foreign accused.

a) Despite the fact that the documentary evidence is all available, the CBI has failed to present evidence :

– that demonstrate that UCC, USA and Warren Anderson were well aware in 1973 that the technology for the MIC plant in Bhopal was “untested”

– that show that the design of the Bhopal plant was substantially different and inferior in terms of safety when compared to the MIC plant owned by Union Carbide in Institute, West Virginia, USA.

– that establishes that Keshub Mahindra and other officials knew or should have known about the hazardous design of the plant and the additional hazards due to design modifications.

– that links each of the accused to deliberate acts undermining operational safety such as rewriting of operation manuals, decommissioning the crucial refrigeration unit and eliminating the maintenance supervisor from most work shifts.

– that demonstrate that UCC, UCIL and its senior officials were indifferent to the injuries caused to people in the neighbourhood communities due to routine leaks in the factory prior to the disaster in 1984

b) The CBI has also failed to

– produce the three absconding foreign accused in India court.

– stop accused Union Carbide Eastern Inc., Hong Kong from “disappearing”.

– visit the Institute, West Virginia plant to document the design differences between the two plants that would show that the Bhopal plant was deliberately under designed.

– deliver summons and execute arrest warrants despite being India’s Interpol agency.

– prevent the sale of shares of UCC, USA in UCIL in 1994 thus loosening the grip of the Indian court over the absconding corporation.

– appeal against the order of the Supreme court that diluted criminal charges against Indian accused.

– take action against the sale of Union Carbide’s intellectual property in India while the corporation is absconding from justice.

– make Dow Chemical, USA, current owner of Union Carbide, appear in the Bhopal court despite clear orders.

3. Why did the case against the Indian officials take so long?

The verdict against the Indian accused is now expected 25 years after the disaster in 1984. The CBI filed charges only in 1987. From 1989 to 1991 it was quashed by the Supreme Court’s order on settlement. From 1993 to 1996 the matter was under revision by the State High Court and the Supreme Court which diluted the charges from culpable homicide to death by negligence.

The case involved examination and cross examination of 178 prosecution witnesses and 8 defence witnesses and presenting over 3000 documents before the court. Hearings in the case were usually scheduled once every month but very often there was a gap of two to three months between hearings.

Repeated demands of survivors’ organization to set up a Special Prosecution Cell for effective and quick prosecution was turned down by the government.

4. What needs to be done to bring the absconding accused to trial?

As the Minister in charge, the Prime Minister must:

– create a Special Prosecution Cell in the CBI for effective and timely action on extradition of foreign accused and collection and presentation of evidence against the foreign accused.

– direct CBI to move on extradition of authorized representative of UCC and resend extradition request for Warren Anderson.

– direct CBI to follow the assets of Union Carbide Eastern Inc. to ensure that the representatives of the accused corporation face criminal trial.

– direct CBI to take action on illegal trading of UCC technology in India.

– direct CBI to take legal action so that summons issued against Dow Chemical, USA can be delivered.

Above all, there is need for sea-change in the political will of both the US and Indian administrations for broad assistance and mutual cooperation on the criminal prosecution of the foreign accused.

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Key source documents in the unheard case against UCC

The people most responsible for the disaster in Bhopal will not be in the courtroom when the verdict against the Indian defendants is announced. Union Carbide Corporation and its ex-Chairman Warren Anderson, and Union Carbide Eastern, have refused since 1992 to obey the summons of the court and answer charges of culpable homicide. The evidence against them has remained largely unheard, as the prosecution sought to focus on the small fry, the Indian managers, who were, despite their own failings and shortcomings, ultimately implementing decisions and carrying out orders that originated in the United States.

Testimony of Edward Muñoz.

UCC’s appointee to run the Indian subsidiary. Muñoz testifies that the MIC plant in Bhopal was designed and its construction managed by the Engineering Department of Group 1, UCC in South Charleston, West Virginia, who also designed the three huge MIC tanks. This group overruled Muñoz’s and UCIL’s objections to storing MIC in such large quantities, contrary to normal industry practice. Control over Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was strictly maintained by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) directly and through its holding company Union Carbide Eastern (UCE) whose managing director was a UCC Corporate Vice President.

Export-Import Bank of the United States documents

Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (although almost half the documents requested were refused on the grounds that they contained “trade secrets”), they confirm that the plant was designed and goods and services for it were to be procured in the US. UCC would also furnish technical services during the first five years of operation. (MIC production began on May 4, 1980 and the five years were not yet up at the time of the catastrophic gas leak)

Excerpt from May 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant by US engineers

On December 24, 1981 a faulty valve gushed phosgene liquid over a factory worker, Ashraf Khan, who died a horrible death after several hours of suffering. A safety audit was ordered and carried out in May 1982 by American safety engineers from UCC. They identified 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene/MIC unit. The page excerpted from the report is uncannily prophetic in its description of the risks involved in trying to clean filters without slipbinding process lines or addressing leaky valves. It recorded MIC leaks, some of which were not able to be controlled.

Union Carbide Eastern assessment of the failing UCIL factory in Bhopal

This document sets out the clearest possible proof that the affairs of the UCIL plant in Bhopal were being run by UCC. Lamenting the steady stream of losses that were accruing, the UCIL Board, said UCE, were keen to establish “what UCC is going to do to resolve the problem”. UCE reported that a programme of vigorous cost-cutting “including a reduction of 335 men” had resulted in savings of $1.25 million, but warned that there was pretty much nothing left to cut. (Cuts in manpower, safety training and maintenance were all major contributors to the disaster.) The plan outlined by UCE and approved by Warren Anderson was to dismantle the Bhopal factory and ship it to Brazil or Indonesia. UCE acknowledged that the Alpha Napthol facility would be impossible to sell because it was “unproven”. This corroborated the fears about “unproven technology” expressed by engineers in the earliest project proposal for the MIC plant. The board decided that it was an acceptable risk. The full proposal can be seen here. The crucial pages are 10, 11 and 12.

September 1984 Safety Survey of MIC unit at Institute, West Virginia

Bhopal’s ‘sister’ factory had markedly superior systems but nonetheless this survey warned that “a runaway reaction could occur in one of the MIC Unit Storage tanks and that response to such a situation would not be timely or effective enough to prevent a catastrophic failure of the tank.” UCC did not circulate the report to the Bhopal factory and less than seven weeks later, its grim warning came true and caused the excruciating deaths of thousands of innocent people in a night.

Bhopal: Courting Disaster

Magazine article written by Rob Hager, published summer 1995, analysing Union Carbide’s historical attitude to risk, its strong ties with the US establishment, and its strategies for evading responsibility for the disaster in Bhopal. Hager identifies Carbide’s triple legal strategy – collusive class action settlement, the bankruptcy defence, and the use of forum non conveniens, which he describes as avoiding an inconvenient rule of law. He notes the role played by lawyers and judge presiding over the Bhopal case in New York, the likelihood of an arms deal being struck between the governments of Rajiv Gandhi and Ronald Reagan, Rajiv Gandhi’s and the Indian Supreme Court’s sell out of the Bhopal victims in the “Valentine’s Day” settlement of 1989, the subsequent reversal by incoming Prime Minister V.P. Singh and the continuing clashes and contradictions between politicians and high officials, including the Attorney General Soli Sorabjee who went out of his way to argue against requesting the extradition of Warren Anderson.

The case against Union Carbide Corporation by Michael V. Ciresi

Forty two pages of argument by Michael V. Ciresi about why Union Carbide’s “forum non conveniens” plea should be dismissed, setting out the case against UCC. Reading this after Hager’s article throws a particular and grim light on what was going on behind the scenes.

Dow-Union Carbide Corporation Merger document

Union Carbide’s submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission dated August 3, 1999 in which it falsely declares that “there are no (i) civil, criminal or administrative actions, suits, claims, hearings, investigations or proceedings pending or, to the actual knowledge of its executive officers, threatened against it or any of its Subsidiaries”. At the time of writing, UCC had been facing criminal charges in India for seven years and had been declared an “absconder from justice”.

Emails relating to India’s request for the extradition of Warren Anderson

Obtained via a FOIA request. A May 1, 2003 exchange of emails between officials in the US Department of Justice and the State Department. The subject of the thread is “Mike or Bruce may start getting calls on Indian extradition request in Bhopal case”. Speaking of their strategy for getting Anderson off the hook, Samuel M. Witten remarks, “Hope it works.” Molly Warlow of the Department of Justice speaks of Anderson being accused of “some sort of negligent homicide in connection with the disaster at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in 1984” and reveals that “there had been extensive discussions with India in the past about pursuing a criminal homicide case against UCC executives would not be helpful.”

Warren Anderson should not be extradited to India

This opinion by Joseph E Geoghan, Union Carbide’s Chief International Counsel, dated July 24, 2003 reveals that the US administration’s concern was not with justice but with business. “The (extradition) request should be rejected. No issue has greater potential to destroy US business leaders’ confidence in India than the handling of the Warren Anderson case.” The document goes on to mount a disingenuous defence of Anderson, and notes that the Indian government had waited 11 years before submitting the extradition request, something the Bhopal survivors had long complained about. Read this story about a 1991 meeting between Joseph Geoghan and Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

Email from Burson-Marsteller to Dow and Carbide PR people

Email dated July 20, 2004 from Karen Doyne, Burson Marsteller’s New York chief of Crisis & Issues Management to Union Carbide counsel William Krohley and Dow/Union Carbide public affairs spokesmen John Musser and Scott Wheeler. The subject is “US rejects India’s request for extradition of Warren Anderson and Doyne writes “Looks like the news is out.” This was the day that news broke and the email clearly demonstrates that the US government departments handling the extradition had been working with Dow and Carbide and their PR agency.

US intelligence report from Mumbai, July 26, 2004

The snippets of information sent from Mumbai include information that then Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers Tapan Sikdar had told parliament that “the investigation agency (CBI) had been asked to strengthen the evidentiary links connecting Anderson to the Bhopal gas leak tragedy.”

But former CBI Joint Director B. R. Lall, speaking after the June 7 verdict revealed that, “The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) received a letter from the Ministry of External Affairs that the extradition proceedings should not be pursued; obviously the government’s intention was to not include him (US citizen Anderson heading the Union Carbide). I do not know what the agreement was between the two countries on the issue. And anyway, in a country like ours, no investigations can be done against the rich and people with high contacts.”

Former CBI Joint Director B. R. Lall speaking after the June 7 verdict on Indian television

A further snippet from the Mumbai spook’s dispatches says “G.O.I. (Government of India) officials may well feel that, for political reasons, they need to perceived as being concerned about extraditing Anderson.”

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Voices from Bhopal: Review of Survivors’ Movement Study

Review of Bhopal Survivors’ Movement Study (2009) Bhopal survivors speak: emergent voices from a people’s movement. Edinburgh: Word Power Books. 216p. illus.

Social movements are complex and messy, riven with tactical and strategic disagreements and divisions, often consumed with internal politics, point-scoring and personality clashes at the cost of joint –or sometimes any- action. Anyone who’s joined even a sedate committee knows the truth of this. On the left, this sectarianism seems endemic, with groups more suspicious of each other than their supposed joint enemies, state and capital. Over time these disagreements can harden to the extent that leaders of the same movement can grow to detest each other.

The situation with the movement in Bhopal, India, to obtain justice for those victimized by the toxic gas leak from US TNC Union Carbide’s pesticide factory –whose death toll is over 20,000 and rising- which is now in its 26th year, is no different. The BGPMUS (Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan) has little time for the BGIA (Bhopal Group for Information and Action) and the BGPMSKS (Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmarchari Sangh), and sees itself, GPNPBSM (Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha) and BGPSSS (Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti) as the only organizations working for the good of the gas victims. Meanwhile the BGIA criticises all the other organisations as lacking in democracy, while continuing to work with them. It’s an open secret that BGPMUS’s leader, Jabbar, has little time –to put it politely- for the BGIA’s Sarangi.

In these circumstances, no small congratulations are due to the Bhopal Survivors’ Movement Study, and in particular to its two young members Dharmash Shah and Tarunima Sen, who obviously did most of the work, for being able to navigate the treacherous currents of the Bhopal movement and gain the confidence of the warring groups: as Dharmesh notes (p.20) ‘In our situation the team’s close association with the Sambhavna Trust, an organisation often associated with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, made this process more challenging’. Not only did they gain the confidence of all sides to this internal dispute, but they have returned with this book which allows 21 activists in Bhopal to share their experiences and lessons from the Bhopal struggle. Three activists present written essays, while the rest of the book consists of interviews, including a group interview with members of the youth group Children Against Dow Carbide. Twelve women and nine men speak, partly reflecting the fact that, in the Bhopal movement, while the vast majority of activists are women, most of the leaders are male. (Those wanting to hear only the voices of women are advised to look for Suroopa Mukherjee’s book, Surviving Bhopal –dancing bodies, written texts and oral testimonials of women in the wake of an industrial disaster, available from Palgrave Macmillan at the usual outrageous monograph price, in this case £52 or $80 for 224 pages. Request it from your public library).

This, then, is the real deal, distilled from 50 hours of interviews. Anyone interested in a description of a grassroots struggle by the grassroots would be hard put to find a better source. Here’s Rehana Begum, ex-member of the BGPMUS:

“When the women in the sewing centres first got organised, our union was called Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Congress-I [Bhopal Gass Affected Women Workers Congress I [Indira]]. We had no idea about the concept of a union or about the concept of a state or what the Chief Minister was. We chose the name Congress-I because the symbol of the Congress party [the palm] was very prominent and we were familiar with the symbol. It was appealing, so we picked that name and sign. There were no political affiliations…The name was changed from Congress to Sangathan only in 1988 as a result of Jabbar’s insistence –we were not that bothered what it was called!” (p 93).

Here’s either Razia or Ruksana Bee (the interview is an ‘amalgam’ of their responses):

“We got the idea of doing a padyatra [march] to Delhi from a big chairman from some political party. We can’t remember his name but he came from Delhi and suggested the padyatra. So we talked to all the women, and they agreed to go for the padyatra. I thought that if I joined it I might get a good, permanent job. Also Rasheeda Bee, our leader, would put pressure on us. She said if we did not join the padyatra and did not do what she said, then we would not be able to come and work here any more. So out of fear we did it.” (p.182)

Here’s Nawab Khan on the power of the women of Bhopal:

“One might have thought that family pressure on the women who participate would have held the movement back from taking on bold or dangerous actions but when women took the lead they shook companies and governments. During the Jhadoo Maro Dow Ko (hit Dow with brooms [campaign]) women attacked the Dow office in Bombay and they also demonstrated at the high security Bombay International Airport. Nobody had attempted that but women from Bhopal have done it.” (p.195).

Here’s Hajra Bee on the Indian government’s plans to incinerate toxic waste from Bhopal:

“If the government cleans up, where will it dump the poison? Pritampura near Indore, so another Bhopal, they are also our brothers and sisters…The government was talking about incinerating it in Gujarat, they are our brothers and sisters too, so why should we do that? We already have one Bhopal that is destroyed and we make Gujarat into another Bhopal? Or we make Pritampur into another Bhopal? This policy of the government is wrong.” (p. 145).

I could fill pages just quoting from the book but won’t. Get your hands on a copy and read it for yourself.

Of course, nothing’s perfect. The introduction by the editors (48 pages of a 216 page book) isn’t as good as it could be: something basic like a timeline or chronology (rather than talk about a timeline) giving the history of the movement would be very useful to those who aren’t conversant with the details of the movement’s long history, though in their defence they state ‘even such a seemingly straightforward idea as a chronology of events is contested’ (p.27): of course, just because something is contested doesn’t mean you don’t do it. I suspect in their effort to be neutral and fair to everyone in the movement, the editors have forgotten their obligations to those outside the movement who will actually buy the book. An index would also be a very useful tool. The placing of page numbers is irritating and I’m not convinced the text needed such wide margins. Understandably the book isn’t as good on the early period of the struggle as on more recent events, though there’s some fascinating material from a rank and file activist, Om Wati Bai (pp.174-175) and from Satinath Sarangi of the BGIA (pp.117-118) and Sadhna Karnik Pradhan of BGPSSS (p.157). We could have done with a few more rank and file interviews also to balance the interviews with the leaders. The other major limitation of the book is that only those resident in Bhopal are included: this limitation means that Sarangi is the only ‘outside’ activist interviewed, as presumably having lived in Bhopal for the 25 years since the disaster he’s no longer counted as a ‘blow in’. It’s a pity some attempt wasn’t made to interview some of the non-Bhopalis whose support was essential to the struggle: an interview with Deena of The Other Media, Delhi or Jayaprakash of the Delhi Science Forum or Nity Jayaraman of the Chennai support group would have been extremely useful, not only in terms of giving a view from outside Bhopal, but also in putting Bhopal in the context of people’s struggles in India over the period. Perhaps in the next edition?


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US Congressmen tell Dow to clean up Bhopal

Ranjit Devraj, IPS, June 18, 2009
A campaign in the United States led by two girl victims from Bhopal, highlighting lingering toxicity left behind by the 1984 gas disaster in their city, has paid off with a group of 27 members of the U.S. Congress asking Dow Chemicals to clean up the site.

Sarita and Sareen, both in their teens, were taken on a 42-day tour of the U.S., starting Apr. 21, by the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) so they could meet and interact with officials, academics and politicians in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and other cities.

Rachna Dhingra, a member of the BGIA team, described the intervention of 27 Congressmen as a “big step” in getting Dow Chemicals to accept responsibility for cleaning up the disaster site in Bhopal, which it acquired from Union Carbide in 2001.

“In the U.S. we had meetings with the State and Justice Department officials, who took keen interest in the issue of extradition of Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide at the time of the world’s worst industrial disaster,” Dhingra told IPS over telephone from Bhopal.

A runaway reaction at the Union Carbide plant – said to have been caused by gross negligence – resulted in cyanide gas spewing into the streets of Bhopal city on the night of Dec. 3, 1984, killing more than 3,500 people instantly and at least 8,000 people in the first week. Further chemical damage affected more than 200,000.

Anderson managed to slip out of Bhopal and fly back to the U.S. – refusing to return to India to face criminal liability.

But the main agenda of the BGIA tour was to bring pressure to bear on Dow Chemicals to clean up the site where the pesticides factory stood – that remains saturated with toxic matter, forcing poor communities around it to drink contaminated water 25 years later, Dhingra said.
Satish Sarangi, who led the delegation, told IPS that the changed attitude was possibly the result of a more responsive administration under President Barack Obama. “Among those we met was Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who had in 1984 chaired the congressional sub-committee on the Bhopal Gas Disaster and had promised a fresh hearing where Dow officials could be summoned.”

In a letter to Dow Chemicals, the senators have demanded that the company take responsibility for meeting the medical needs of the survivors and their economic rehabilitation, besides cleaning up the soil and water of the area around the site.

“We request that Dow ensures a representative appear in the ongoing legal cases in India regarding Bhopal, that Dow meets the demands of the survivors for medical and economic rehabilitation, and cleans up the soil and groundwater contamination in and around the factory site,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Dow chairman and CEO, Andrew Liveris.
“Despite repeated public requests and protests around the world, Union Carbide has refused to appear before the Bhopal District Court to face the criminal charges pending against it for the disaster,” the letter said. When served with a summons by a Bhopal district court in 1992, Union Carbide publicly refused to comply.

In 1999 Bhopal survivors filed a class action suit in U.S. courts against Union Carbide, asking that the company be held responsible for violations of international human rights law and for cleanup of environmental contamination in Bhopal. The case is one of a handful of international corporate liability cases that test the limits of corporations’ ability to use the laws of one nation to escape responsibility in another.
Congressman Frank Pallone was quoted as saying that, “after 25 years, the human and environmental tragedy of the Bhopal chemical disaster remains with us, while Union Carbide and Dow Chemical are yet to be brought to justice.”

Sarangi thought what may have helped draw support from such a large group of Congressmen was the fact that both India and the U.S. uphold the “polluter pays” principle in which the polluter – rather than public agencies – is made responsible for environmental pollution.

Indicating the double standards followed by Dow Chemicals, Sarangi said that while the company saw fit to set aside 2.2 billion dollars in 2002 against Union Carbide’s asbestos-related liabilities in the U.S., it has continued to evade liabilities in Bhopal.

Dow Chemicals had taken the stand that all liabilities were settled in 1989 when Union Carbide paid 470 million dollars to the Indian government, to be distributed to the survivors.

But NGOs based in Bhopal say the amount was paltry compared to the three billion dollars originally demanded by the government, and also did not take into account the after-effects of the gas leak on the city’s inhabitants – some 15,000 of whom are estimated to have died subsequently of various complications.

It has been estimated that victims ended up receiving less than 350 dollars for injuries, some of them lifelong. Also Union Carbide may have gotten away with costs amounting to 48 cents per share.

In 1991, the Supreme Court ordered Union Carbide to set up a super- speciality 500-bed hospital in Bhopal to look after the long-term needs of the survivors. But the bulk of the funds actually came from the sale of Union Carbide’s Indian shares – confiscated by a district court as penalty after the company ignored summons to appear in the criminal liability case.

According to Dhingra, what became the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust facility was quickly ridden with corruption and mismanagement so that the real victims could never actually access any of its facilities.

Syed M. Irfan, who heads the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha (Movement For the Rights of Men and Women Affected by the Bhopal Gas Tragedy), told IPS the state government of Madhya Pradesh was as much to blame for the uncaring attitude towards the victims of the disaster and to residual toxicity.

“If Dow Chemicals does undertake to pay for reparations then it is important to involve the NGOs rather than leave it solely to the government,” Syed told IPS. “The fact is that even the creation of a separate ministry to deal with the gas tragedy has not helped the interests of the victims.”

According to Dhingra a priority for the survivors now is to hold the central government down to a solemn promise it made in August last year to set up an ‘empowered commission’ to look into all aspects of rehabilitation – including medical care of the survivors, income generation, social support and clean-up efforts.

That promise came after a dramatic month-long, 500-mile walk by a group of 50 people from Bhopal to the national capital where they set up camp for 130 days.

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Stop! Take a deep breath

Latha Jishnu, Business Standard, December 06, 2008

India’s worst terrorist attack occurred not in Mumbai last month, but in Bhopal 24 years ago – and it’s the kind of carnage that goes unheeded.

What determines the gravity and enormity of an outrage? Is it the number of casualties? Is it the brutality with which the attack is carried out? Is it the ideology of the perpetrators along with their religious affiliation that determines the scale? Or is there some other yardstick, like the magnitude of human suffering and its long-term consequences?

Last week’s terror strike on Mumbai, according to a well-orchestrated campaign, was India’s 9/11, the equivalent of the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US eight years ago. The facile logic offered for this claim is that the three-day siege of the hotels and a guesthouse in Mumbai were the worst terrorist attacks on the country, and thus India’s 9/11. As such it also seeks a Rambo-like response of hot pursuit and vengeance in which India slams terrorist cells here and across the border.

Class has a lot to do with this perception. The current hysteria emanates mainly from a slice of society that suddenly finds itself as vulnerable to massacre and mayhem as the working class travelling in overcrowded commuter trains have been. For the rich it has been a disaster without parallel: their iconic playgrounds have been violated and nothing appears secure any more even in their gated universe. The hitherto unstated fear and loathing is out in the open now, with society’s elite seeing terror slithering out of the slums sprawled at the foothills of their luxury towers.

But there has to be more than class at play when a country can chose to turn its back on the worst disaster of all times and pretend that it is part of the civilised world. December 2 marked the 24th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy and not all the terrorist strikes in recent years can equal the horror and magnitude of that event. On the night of Dec 2, 1984, a date that ought to be seared in the collective Indian memory, around 30 tonnes of methyl isocyanate and hydrogen cyanide, deadly gases both, leaked from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory and enveloped Bhopal, turning parts of the city into a gas chamber. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), a solidarity of volunteers fighting for redressal, says around half a million people were exposed to the gas and over 20,000 have died so far as a result of their exposure. Among the 150,000 seriously affected, at least 50,000 are too sick to work for a living. Worse, children born to gas-affected people suffer from serious congenital defects. Some have no lips, ears or noses, others no hands or feet.

Around 3,000 are estimated — does anyone keep a proper body count in the slum areas? — to have died in the siege of Bhopal as people ran blindly across the city on that bitterly cold winter night with no official assistance or security forces to guide them. Would TV cameras have provided non-stop coverage of this terrorist strike by an American corporation and their Indian partners who have refused to accept culpability? It would have called for battle-like readiness, gas masks and all, to venture into such a zone where no sound bytes would have captured the full horror of the scene.

As TV channels go ballistic about an inefficient and inept government that allows Indian territory to be used for increasingly daring terrorist strikes, there is a deep irony in this for survivors of the gas tragedy. For 24 long years they have been fighting for justice, thwarted at every stage by their own government that has done little to bring the US multinational to book. Instead, it brokered a shameful deal with Union Carbide for an out-of-court settlement that provided compensation of just $470 million against an initial claim of $33 billion. Yet, yesterday, they were celebrating the hardy spirit of women who have battled companies destroying the environment with their annual Chingari Award.

Their courage and determination offer many lessons. This is something that the class of people who are hoping for a US-like response to the terror strike and government need to learn. The crisis of survival for millions in Bhopal, in the wake of what many consider the worst peace-time disaster of the last century — albeit one perpetrated by a corporate entity — poses a tremendous challenge for India. It requires a wholesale clean-up of the government machinery and not just the security set-up, as indignant Mumbai citizens are demanding. It involves getting something as basic as clean drinking water for the sick and dying victims of Bhopal to a more complex environmental, economic and medical rehabilitation programme. To prevent other Bhopals, one would need to tighten the working of practically every department and enforcement agency of the government, from state pollution control boards to the sanitation and water departments. Does Middle India, myopic and self-serving, have the stomach for a campaign of this nature?

The Bhopal survivors have shown courage and perseverance of a rare order, battling legal systems here and in the US, official apathy and corporate deviousness with steely resolve. Earlier this year, they managed to wrest a landmark victory by getting the government to agree to set up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal, and take legal action on the civil and criminal liabilities of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical. This commission, however, is yet to be set up, marking what could be another phase in the battle for justice.

It would be interesting to see how far Corporate India is willing to go in rebuilding systems and society. To the Bhopal crowd and their global supporters, multinationals and Indian companies have become synonymous with deceit and irresponsibility. In 2001, Dow Chemicals took over Union Carbide but it has rejected the claim that it is responsible for Union Carbide’s liabilities. Instead, it has sought the help of industrialists like Ratan Tata to bail them out of a sticky situation. This has only served to besmirch the Tatas, who have become a target of the Bhopal campaign.

Frustration and anger is the zeitgeist of the times. At both ends of the spectrum, Indians are disenchanted with a system that is indifferent to their well-being and security. How the government responds will determine how successful the terrorists have been. If the government can undo the damage in Bhopal, then it would have learned to take on the terrorists as well.

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