Tag Archives: Indian Supreme Court

Mr Justice Ahmadi does the decent thing

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.

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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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Survivors 5, Vultures 0

In a comprehensive victory for Bhopal survivors, the Indian Supreme Court today affirmed that unpaid compensation money amounting to £187 million (€270 million, US$343 million), belonged to the survivors and to them alone. The court dismissed applications by the government of Madhya Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Union Carbide’s Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust and two other organisations, all of whom were hoping to grab a share of compensation money which has been sitting in a Reserve Bank of India dollar bank account for the last fifteen years.

Earlier this year survivors’ organisations petitioned the Supreme Court to order the sum, including accrued interest, to be distributed among the people for whom it had been intended, many of whom are chronically ill, unable to work and living on the edge of the abyss. The petition was granted by the Supreme Court on July 19, but distribution has been delayed by a blizzard of opportunistic applications from others who never had any right to the money.

With urban civic body elections due to take place in Bhopal next month, the BJP political party engaged in a bit of voter-massage by demanding that the money be distributed also in parts of the city that were not affected by the gas disaster. Their application was dismissed.

Union Carbide’s Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, which is rich enough to provide a swimming pool for its staff, but which has often turned away gas victims who do not have the right paperwork, also had its application turned down.

2,000 Bhopalis, who had gathered in Delhi to demonstrate outside the Indian parliament were tonight rejoicing. You can see the rare sight of smiles on Bhopali survivors’ faces by clicking the link below to the article, which includes the official press release.

 

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Supreme Court Says Money is for Survivors

Press Statement
issued by
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Bhopal ki Aawaaz

SUPREME COURT SAYS MONEY IS FOR SURVIVORS

The Supreme Court of India today gave a decision that the distribution of the balance of compensation amount of over Rs.1567 Crores on a pro-rata basis should commence from November 15, 2004. Five interim applications presented before the Supreme Court were dismissed.

Continue reading Supreme Court Says Money is for Survivors

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While politicians posture, people die

For more than 20,000 people who suffered terrible injuries on the night of poison two decades ago, recent Supreme Court decisions about clean water and distribution of compensation monies come too late. Those twenty thousand are the dead. In their case neither was justice done, nor any humanity shown. The company, whose actions by any civilised standard are beneath contempt, is scarcely less callous in its treatment of the victims than successive waves of Indian politicians in central and state governments. The Supreme Court issues orders, the politicians ignore them. Hence the clean water demo of two days ago that brought Bhopal to a halt.

Today, there is more news from the Supreme Court – issues regarding distribution of compensation money are likely soon to be resolved. But local BJP politicians, led by Chief Minister Gaur, who earlier today pledged to make Madhya Pradesh a “corruption-free” zone, are asking the Court to distribute the money to the whole city, rather than just to those injured for whom it was intended and to whom it has been for so many years denied. In the unlikely event that such a petition is granted, it would be the first instance of Supreme Court-funded voter bribery.

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Bhopal ki Aawaaz

October 1, 2004
Press Statement

Addressing a press conference today, leaders of four organizations active on the issues of the December1984 Union Carbide disaster informed victims of the disaster that the Supreme Court of India is most likely to resolve all pending issues regarding the distribution of balance of compensation very soon. The leaders stated that at the hearing in the Supreme Court today, the judges have clearly reiterated that the balance of compensation money can only go to individual victims of the disaster.

The matters that were taken up by the Supreme Court in today’s hearing were the submission made by the Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal Gas Victims with regard to the mode of distribution of the balance of compensation. Representing petitioners Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla and other victims, Advocate Mr. S Muralidhar argued for fair, simple and speedy distribution of the compensation amount. According to Mr. Muralidhar the court would like to hear the case at length with a view to resolving all questions at the next hearing of Supreme Court on October 26, 2004.

Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla from the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh who initiated the move for distribution of balance of compensation in March 2003 said that five applications have been filed in the matter by various agencies. The parties that have filed these applications are: Union of India, State of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] and Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan [BGPMUS]. However, the Supreme Court has not issued any notice on these applications despite plea by respective lawyers. The Court will decide whether or not to entertain them at the next hearing on 26th October.

The application by the Union of India has sought clarification on the implementation of the July 19, 2004 decision of the Supreme Court regarding compensation distribution. The application by the State of Madhya Pradesh has sought Rs. 600 Crores from the balance of compensation fund for long-term medical care and economic and environmental rehabilitation. The application by the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust has sought release of the balance moneys out of the sale of the attached shares and for further funds for carrying out its obligations to provide medical relief to gas victims beyond 2005.

The petition filed by the Madhya Pradesh unit of the BJP has sought the inclusion of the residents of the 20 unaffected wards among the recipients of the balance of compensation fund. The Petition filed jointly by the BGPMUS and the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti has called for a re-examination of the inadequacies of the Bhopal settlement of 1989.

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

Contact :
House No. 12, Gali No. 2, Near Naseer Masjid, Bag Umrao Dulha, Bhopal Tel: 3132298
B-2 / 302, Sheetal Nagar, Berasia Road, Bhopal. Tel: 9826167369
For more information please visit www.bhopal.net

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