Posted on the original bhopal.net in 2002 and reposted here – the photos are currently missing
BHOPAL, 27 NOVEMBER 2002
Yesterday we had a phone call from Bhopal, from one of the activists involved in the action at the defunct Union Carbide plant – he can be seen being dragged and kicked in the back in the ICJB video, He said, “Don’t focus on the police brutality. We’re not happy about it, but we don’t want it to distract from the main issue. The focus should stay on Dow Chemical cleaning up the contamination created, then abandoned, by Union Carbide in Bhopal.”
With due respect to our friend, the violence of the police, unprovoked and over-the-top as it was, can’t be ignored. The world has seen the video footage and it’s about time people knew what the survivors struggling for justice are up against: not just an immoral corporation and its allies in the US establishment; not just a succession of Indian administrations so eager to cultivate rich multinationals that they betrayed their duty to their own poorest people; but a Madhya Pradesh state government, various officials of which have over the years demonstrated themselves to be spineless, incompetent and corrupt. It was the state government that sent in the goons, but it is Union Carbide (now hiding like a toxic Jonah within the Dow whale) that is responsible for the problem.
As we now know from Union Carbide’s own secret papers, the company used inferior technology in Bhopal, neglected its Bhopal factory, failed to train its workers, took no remedial action when repeatedly warned that the plant was unsafe, provided inadequate waste disposal facilities, heavily contamined the soil and water within the plant, knew that its poisons would spread beyond its boundaries, for ten years knew the danger to local drinking water, issued no warning and did nothing to stop it. There are also strong grounds for suspecting that Eveready Industries (as Union Carbide was by then calling itself) worked with a corrupt official to dupe the State government into allowing it to relinquish its lease without properly decontaminating the site and remedying the damage to Bhopal’s ground water.
From the day that Union Carbide set foot in Bhopal, it let loose poisons that are still flowing – in the ravaged lungs of its 1984 methyl-isocyanate victims – in the breast milk of women who live near the plant and were not warned that their water was being poisoned – in the aquifer itself, deep underground, and massively difficult to restore – and in the bile of local government officials whom, as we now know, the corporation regarded with contempt, and who were made to look like monkeys by its trickery.
More on Carbide’s hoodwinking of the Madhya Pradesh government in a minute, but first the police. Why were they so beastly? Yesterday four possibilities were being mooted:
1) They’re paid by Dow
2) The police are used to bashing people up, it’s what they do
3) An individual officer lost his cool
4) Someone in the state government told them to go in extra hard
We have no evidence that any Bhopal policemen are paid by Dow-Carbide, although if that should prove to be the case, no-one will be very surprised. In February this year, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch blamed Enron for police brutality against people in a fishing village who opposed Enron’s development there. Investigations revealed that the police were directly on the Enron payroll. (Source: Anna Pha, “Capitalism in a nutshell”, The Guardian, 27 February 2002)
Bhopal’s police are in any case allowed to accept bribes, provided that they are not of more than half a million rupees (about $11,000) at a time.
It’s official: policemen in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh can accept gifts worth Rs.500,000 for doing up their homes. “We’ve taken this step to promote cooperation between the public and the police. It will enable policemen discharge their responsibilities smoothly,” explained a senior Bhopal officer speaking on condition of anonymity…”The (Madhya Pradesh) government has been a strong votary of people’s participation in various community activities. It has enlisted the support of people in running schools, and this is merely an extension of the same idea,” the police officer added. (IANS, May 17 2002)
Out of their own mouths. (A single gift of Rs 500,000 amounts to more than twenty times the compensation that the majority gas victims received from Union Carbide and about nine times the annual salary of doctors working in a survivors’ clinic. What a pity that the citizens’ clean-up of the contaminated Union Carbide factory, which is threatening thousands of people with cancers and birth defects, does not appear to be the sort of community activity the Madhya Pradesh government wishes to votarise.)
What of the police sport of people-bashing – to which may be added the sporadic rape? Madhya Pradesh, historically, has had a terrible reputation.
Madhya Pradesh is so notorious for its “criminals in uniform” that not long ago an Inspector General of Police issued a confidential circular asking his subordinates not to commit rapes “during State Assembly sessions…for it gave a bad name to the force.” And irritated by the opposition tirade against custodial rape, a former Chief Minister of the state proclaimed, “To rape is a human weakness”. (Source: PUCL Bulletin, Oct 1981)
In 1981, an average of one person a month was dying in Madhya Pradesh lock ups, police routinely used savage beatings to extract confessions from “suspects” and as a high ranking officer of the era explained to a journalist, ”We don’t teach anatomy to our constables.”
On the morning of 18 August 1996, over 250 villagers of Bijasen village in Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh were undertaking a “satyagraha” [non-violent protest involving fast] inside a temporary hut against the construction of the Bargi Dam … Rajkumar Sinha, Asit Kumar and thirteen others, including three women, were arrested by police …When several demonstrators, including some women, tried to prevent the two activists from being arrested and taken away, they were beaten with lathis and rifle butts on their stomach, buttocks and wrist. One of the arrested women received a deep lathi wound on the upper part of her thigh. In response to a request for a report on the incident by the NHRC, the Government of Madhya Pradesh said that several of the demonstrators had been arrested under section 151 of the CrPC to prevent them from committing cognizable offenses “like stone pelting, stick wielding etc”. The government further claimed that the protestors caused physical injuries to several police personnel. It went on to claim that “no brutal force was used to disperse the crowd nor any case of brutal injury has been reported to the administration” (Source: Amnesty International, ‘Defending Human Rights in India’, 2000)
Not much, it seems, has changed. Arun Pratap Singh, the officer in charge of the disgraceful police exhibition on 25 November, has said that those arrested will be charged with “rioting and trespass”. As the video shows, the only rioting was done by the police.
What of the rogue cop thesis? Did a solitary policeman lose his head? Evidence from the video does suggest that a reserve inspector, P.S. Chouhan (the fat one in the peaked cap with the “secret police” shades) got rather over-excited. He is to be seen pushing over an old lady, punching a clean-up team member in a police van, kicking a helpless man in the back as he is being dragged away by his arms, and finally slapping a man who was offering no resistance. All of these actions were against the law – British cop Keitn Empsall who was caught on video in September doing similar things to an unresisting man was found guilty of common assault and faced a six month jail sentence and a £5,000 fine. £5,000 is roughly Rs 3.50,000, but that’s only one bribe for a Bhopal policewallah.
What will happen to Chouhan? Don’t hold your breath. Allegations of police brutality in Madhya Pradesh are investigated – by the police.
Which brings us to the fourth possibility. Were the rozzers ordered to go in extra hard? And if so, why? This is where things get embarrassing.
The contaminated factory site is a bit of a sensitive subject among politicians and bureaucrats who work and have their being in the Madhya Pradesh Mantralaya. Only last week secret Union Carbide papers, obtained by “discovery” during a class action suit in New York brought by survivors against the company, revealed how comprehensively Union Carbide had led the state government up the garden path.
As one cynic put it: “Carbide ne Madhya Pradesh sarkar ko chuna lagaya”. Sorry, darlings, it’s untranslatable but has to do with betel leaves smeared with lime but lacking supari. Basically, it means that Carbide made the state government look like a bunch of morons.
The papers, which have never before been made public, clearly show that right from the beginning, the company regarded the Indian authorities with the utmost contempt.
Under the terms of the contract, the factory was supposed to embody state-of-the-art science. Union Carbide led the Indian authorities and public to believe that the Bhopal factory shared identical technology with their MIC plant at Institute, West Virginia. The documents tell a different story. They show that Carbide installed inferior systems in Bhopal, knowing they were untested in service and likely to cause production difficulties, delays and problems. (UCC 04206) Carbon monoxide was not produced, as at Institute, from methane (natural gas, considered to be the cleanest fossil fuel), but by burning petroleum-coke (UCC 04204) which produced sticky and carcinogenic tars.
The fatal MIC production unit was built to circumvent a government ruling limiting foreign equity in Indian enterprises, except in cases where foreign technology was indispensible. Carbide had been formulating its Sevin pesticide using MIC imported from the US. But any fool could do that. So the company decided to manufacture MIC in Bhopal. This would enable them to slide through the loophole. (UCC 04189) The new MIC unit was deliberately underfunded, to fulfil only the minimum requirement. (UCC 04190) No thought was given to potential risks to local people, but Carbide, which was determined “not to accept any conditions which would dilute our equity under 51%”, ended up retaining 50.9% of Union Carbide India Limited.
Crucially, for the question of groundwater pollution, waste disposal systems were different in the US and India. Bhopal’s effluent was not, as at Institute, purified until it was clean enough to be discharged to a river. The company just shoved it all into huge ‘solar evaporation ponds’, despite being warned by their own experts that a rupture of the liners would pose a serious threat to ground water. To prevent this new ponds would need to be dug every two or three years. Of course they were not. It was not long before the existing ponds were leaking. (Take our Short Tour of the Major Discoveries)
Before the gas leaked in December 1984, the supposedly state-of-the-art factory was in a bad way. Pipes and metalwork were corroding, valves were leaking. Gauges did not work. Waste was piled high. Union members complained about hazardous working conditions, but nothing was done.
In the Sevin plant, tar was accumulating around the No.1 hoist. Sevin (that is to say, carbaryl) residues had spilled and not been cleaned up. Toxic tars were being handled and transported without using proper drums and care. Empty tar drums were not properly stored. An operational safety survey conducted by US Carbide engineers in May 1992 reported “The house keeping in and around the entire (Sevin) area was found to be poor. The Napthol spillage is difficult to control but the general pile of old oily drums, old pipe, pools of oil on ground etc, create unnecessary fire and access problems.” (UCC 01750) The same report, commenting on the Bhopal factory as a whole, went on to warn of the potential for “a major toxic release”.
As a result of this report, safety changes were made at the company’s US plant in Institute, West Virginia. Nothing was done in Bhopal.
Certain union members, who were by now convinced that the factory was a time bomb, warned a journalist, Rajkumar Keswani. He wrote an article pleading “Please Save this City”. (Rawat Weekly, September 1982) Still nothing was done. The following month the factory leaked a combination of methyl-isocyanate (which two years later would kill thousands), hydrochloric acid and chloroform. The cloud drifted beyond the factory into the local community. There were no deaths and management proclaimed that it had been a trifling affair and that the factory was safe. The outraged unions took it upon themselves to make posters in Hindi which they distributed throughout the community:
As the union continued to issue warnings and management continued to ignore them, Keswani continued his lone crusade, writing further articles with such grimly prophetic titles as Bhopal Sitting on Top of a Volcano and If You Do Not Understand This You Will Be Wiped Out. Five months before the tragedy, he wrote his final article: Bhopal on the Brink of a Disaster.
Since the accident in 1984, time has stood still in the Bhopal factory. Many things are just as they were on “that night”. In the MIC control room, the pressure gauge of tank 610 is still jammed on overload. Papers litter the floor. Outside, wind and weather are patiently destroying what is left of the plant. Structures are rusting and giving way. A tank has rotted, discharging a slide of reddish brown Sevin in huge rock-like lumps, onto the ground. If this were to catch light it would release MIC, the gas that did the killing in 1984. And there have already been two major fires at the factory.
In an affidavit submitted to the New York District Court, T.R. Chauhan (no relation to “Moté” Chouhan, the all-punching-all-kicking cop) gave a list of toxic chemicals – including pesticides, solvents, catalysts and by-products – that were routinely dumped in and around the factory. Chauhan’s list ran from December 1969 when the plant began production, to December 1984 when time stopped. (Read more here.)
The first fears about water contamination began long before the 1984 disaster, when cattle died after drinking from the solar evaporation ponds. By the late eighties, people living in the bastis near the factory knew that something was seriously wrong with their drinking wells. The water in them had begun to smell horrid and taste worse. It caused a burning sensation in the mouth.
I recently wanted to reckon the aggressiveness of this pollution by drinking half a glass of the water of one of those wells. My mouth, my throat, my tongue instantly got on fire, while my arms and legs suffered an immediate skin rash. This was the simple manifestation of what men, women and children have to endure daily, some eighteen years after the tragedy. (Source: Dominique Lapierre, ‘Mercy for the Martyrs of Bhopal’)
People were getting ill. The Bhopal Group for Information & Action took water samples and sent them for analysis to the Citizens Laboratory in Boston, USA. By 15 May 1990 the news was out. Dichlorobenzene and trichlorobenzene had been found in the water. The former causes anemia, skin lesions, appetite loss, damage to liver and changes in blood, the latter changes in liver, kidneys and adrenal glands. (Source, US Environment Protection Agency)
Questions were asked at Union Carbide’s May Annual General Meeting and the local manager in India, Subimal Bose, soon began to feel the heat. He dashed off a letter to Babulal Gaur, then Gas Relief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, quoting a 1990 study by NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute). NEERI had been called in by the state government. Union Carbide knew the minister would accept NEERI’s report and was content to let him believe it.
“We believe the conclusion of their study is that no contamination of soil and ground water was observed…” (UCC 03485)
Next Bose lashed out at the survivors’ organisations who had collected their own water samples and found the di- and tri-chlorobenzenes.
“We strongly feel that the press reports circulated in the newspapers are mischievous and meant to cause panic in the minds of the citizens of Bhopal. We feel this situation requires immediate clarification by the Government of Madhya Pradesh in order … to avoid any unnecessary agitation by interested parties.” (UCC 03485)
Carbide did not tell Minister Gaur two important things. First, it privately knew the NEERI data was worthless. (UCC 02050) Second, it had known for almost a year that the soil and water at the plant were massively polluted. (UCC 02268) Water samples taken from pits near the boundary of the factory produced “instant 100% mortality” in fish. It would not take a genius to realise that the ground water, and therefore drinking water wells on the other side of the boundary, were threatened.
Despite all it knew, Union Carbide was still claiming as late as 1997 that local drinking water was safe – a claim for which it was privately rebuked by Arthur D. Little (UCC 3043).
Almost from the day of the accident, Union Carbide was desperate to rid itself of its embarrassing Bhopal factory. There was a snag. The terms of the lease required the land to be thoroughly cleaned and detoxified before it could be handed back to the lessor, the government of Madhya Pradesh. (UCC 03506)
Carbide and its proxy Eveready Industries, continued to control the site until 1998. During that time they tried to effect a cosmetic clean-up – just enough to fool the state government into thinking the place was safe. Then they could hand it over. (UCC 03507)
Only cheap, quick methods were considered. All were inherently dangerous. Incinerating the Napthol and Sevin tars would have spread toxic smoke over the same neighbourhoods whose water was being poisoned, but was at one point strongly recommended. (UCC 02070) Burial in a landfill created from one of the solar evaporation ponds – this had been discussed in 1993 and rejected because one of Carbide’s own experts warned that that hydraulic pressure could cause the liner to split. (UCC 02011) Mixing with clean topsoil in an effort to dilute the poisons, then growing crops on top (bon appetit!). Even more bizarre was the idea of baking the toxic sludge into bricks, which would presumably be used to build homes (UCC 03808/3809)
Meanwhile state government officials were growing impatient to know when the promised clean-up would actually happen. Carbide pumped all the wastes into one of the solar ponds, wrapped it in a thin liner, bulldozed soil over the top and told the state government that this was enough, that all was well, problem solved. If the state government did not like it, Carbide (by this time renamed Eveready) would simply wash its hands of the whole business. (UCC 02910) Poison? What poison? The lease was duly relinquished.
No attempt had been made to protect the ground water, or clean up wells, or remove chemicals lying around in drums, or pick up wastes spilled on the ground. Waking up at last to the toxic chaos Carbide had created and left behind, the state government begged a court to force Union Carbide to pay for cleaning-up the mess. (UCC 02237)
But it was too late. Carbide no longer had any assets in India, and not the slightest intention of turning up to any court proceedings. In the nicest possible way, it told the Madhya Pradesh government to go f*** itself.
The company ceased to be the occupier of the site on and from 9.7.98. The State Government as the rightful occupier of the premises and having full knowledge of the status of the site is expected to do whatever is required to be done in regard to the site… The company has no locus standi in the matter, and is neither in a position nor is required to be involved in the various activities which the State Government as occupier may think it fit to undertake by itself or through any of its agencies.” (UCC 02240)
In 1999 Greenpeace tested soil and water in and around the plant. Levels of mercury and other toxic substances were alarming (in one place the mercury level was six million times higher than expected). Cancer- and birth-defect-causing chemicals were found in drinking water. Early this year, another study discovered lead, mercury and organochlorines in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
To the people of areas like Jayaprakash Nagar and Atal-Ayub Nagar, this is like being attacked twice. Many lost family members on that night in 1984, too terrible to remember. Now their lives – and their children’s lives are again endangered – by the same factory. People want to know why it has been allowed to happen, and why they were not warned. They are entitled to be angry, and since neither Dow-Carbide nor the Madhya Pradesh government have done anything to stop the poisoning, they reckon they’re entitled to take steps to protect themselves.
On Monday 25th, under the banner of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, a large group of local people entered the factory to begin a citizen’s clean-up. With them were 30 foreign decontamination experts, among them Greenpeace members from 16 countries and local people who had been specially trained in waste disposal.
The plan was to pack the loose chemicals into drums, store the drums safely in a warehouse on the site, and hand the key to the authorities.
The team was professionally trained and organised into four groups, each with a specific task. They wore biochemical suits and breathing apparatus. Back-up units brought in generators and petrol to fuel them. There was a road tanker of water for washing down equipment and structures, and trucks carrying drums for the waste. Planning was meticulous. The ICJB organisers had made models of the plant to help explain to local people what was being done and why. There were even kites for the children – red diamonds bearing the Dow logo and the legend Life Poisoned Daily.
People had been inside the plant about 45 minutes when the riot police turned up with their rifles and lathis. With them came Reserve Inspector P.S. Chouhan. A calmer man might have first asked what was happening and then discussed the situation with his superiors – only last month the state government declared its support for the efforts of survivors’ groups to get the plant cleaned up – but “Moté” instead told the crowd, fatuously, that the activists were “Hindu fundamentalists”, come to stir up trouble between the communities.
Not so, the people informed him, we are Hindus and Muslims together. The crowd began chanting “We are humans, we are Indians”.
Watch the ICJB video. It’s a long download, but worth the wait. You will hear the strangely uplifting cry of “Jhadoo Maro Dow Ko!” (Hit Dow with a Broom!) and see Champa Devi Shukla, from whose broom Dow’s European CEO Respini recently fled, leading the chanting. You will see Chouhan enter camera left, barge his way towards Rashida Bi and push her over. After this, the police swarm all over, arresting people. Cut to inside a police van where a clean-up team member is thrown. Chouhan waddles in and throws vicious punches at our friend’s head (perhaps the fool thought he couldn’t be seen). Then the video cuts back to the chanting group. We see Nity being dragged away and Chouhan kicking him in the back. Then slapping Shai.
The police confiscated all the team’s equipment. One wonders whether they even snatched the kites from the hands of small children to parade as “evidence”. About 70 people were arrested and taken to the city’s Shahjahanabad police station, outside which a crowd of about 500 survivors soon gathered to demand their release. All 70 were eventually charged with criminal trespass. It was later that police chief Arun Pratap Singh (who clearly has not seen the video) announced the additional charge of rioting.
By that time urgent action alerts had already flashed round the world and phones had begun ringing in the offices of the Chief Minister, the Governor of Bhopal, the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi and Amnesty International in London. Those phones are likely to keep ringing.
All the activists and local people have now been released on bail, but their equipment remains confiscated by the police. The foreign teams have had to leave, so for the moment there is no further chance to clean up the factory.
Gas Relief minister Arif Aqueel said on TV that the problem was that the ICJB team had not asked permission. Had they done so it would almost certainly have been granted. Of course the team, albeit minus many of its members, has now formally applied for permission to re-enter the plant to complete its work. The latest we hear is that permission is unlikely to be granted.
God knows how the minds of politicians work. Rarely do they have the grace to apologise for having made a mistake. They can never be wrong. Our eyes must be deceiving us, because their police simply never misbehave. They cannot back down, so they bluster and puff and make even bigger idiots of themselves. For example: the people who entered the plant are apparently also to be charged with performing “obscene acts and songs”.
Well, we have all seen obscene acts captured on the video, but it was not the survivors who committed them. As for obscene songs, the chant of “We are humans, we are Indians” and “Jhadoo maro Dow ko” must seem very obnoxious to politicians who treat their own people worse than animals, but part their cheeks for every foreign corporation.
You should know, Mr Aqeel, that the survivors organisations are morally entitled to go back in to clean up that factory whether you grant them permission or no. What gives you the right to grant or withhold permission? For eighteen years while their water was being poisoned, your department did nothing. Now that your police have violently stopped anybody else from containing the toxic wastes, what is your plan of action? What’s your timeline for ensuring that Dow cleans up those stinking wells?
Which brings us to another stench.
The government body responsible for certifying that Carbide had honoured its lease was the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board. In particular it would have to approve the final report of the hapless NEERI, that organisation which had already found itself so out of its depth in 1990.
NEERI’s second report, released in 1997, found no evidence of contamination of groundwater by chemicals leaking from the factory. Carbide, which should have been delirious with delight, was privately appalled. The NEERI report was so riddled with errors and omissions that no competent expert could take it seriously. Carbide (by this time called Eveready Industries) listed three pages of howlers that needed to be corrected, if the report were to have the slightest credibility. Arthur D Little, with its international reputation to consider, was less kind.
“Do not say the ground water is safe,” ADL seems to be telling NEERI. “Pollution can travel underground much faster than you realise … We agree that the samples you took contained no pollution, but this does not mean there was no pollution to be found. You did not take enough samples.” Check their comments for yourself (UCC 03032) (UCC 03042) (UCC3043)
NEERI’s report was however accepted by V.K. Jain, newly-appointed head of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board. Roughly a year later, 9 July 1998, the lease had been handed back and Carbide was gone from India.
Two and half years later, a bombshell.
VK JAIN ARRESTED BY SPE SLEUTHS
Central Chronicle, 23rd February 2001
BHOPAL FEBRUARY 22: The Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) Chairman VK Jain was arrested by the Special Police Establishment (SPE) of the Lokayukta for amassing huge wealth disproportionate to his known source of income. The SPE sleuths who raided the residence and other houses owned by VK Jain and his relatives are reported to have recovered property worth more then Rs 15 crore. The police on Thursday opened several bank lockers from where precious stones, jewellery worth several crores of rupees were recovered.The raids were simultaneously carried out at his 74 Bungalow residence and other places at Bhopal, Indore, Neemuch, Gondia, Jabalpur, Mandsaur, Katni and Manasa on Tuesday morning. He is expected to be produced before the special magistrate on Friday. Officials recovered property papers of a house at gautam Nagar worth Rs 2 crore and another multi-storeyed building at Indore worth more than Rs 10 crore. The two bank lockers at Bhopal were opened by the officials and precious stones, gold and ornaments worth more than Rs 30 lakh were recovered apart from important papers related to property and investment bonds worth more then 2 crore. Papers related to four other bank lockers in the State Bank of Indore and Canara Bank and two other lockers at Indore have also been recovered.(Source: Central Chronicle relayed via Bhopal.net, February 2001)
For the information of non-Indian readers, a “crore” is ten million rupees. At today’s exchange rates, one crore of rupees is worth $207,142.95 (US) or £133,507.79 (UK).
It emerged during investigation that Jain had been doing unorthodox business with distilleries that were polluting the river Betwa, which rises in the Upper Lake of Bhopal.
The board had been issuing no-objection certificates to several polluting industries, including distilleries, in violation of norms. Jain is alleged to own palatial houses in Bhopal and Indore, two apartments in Mumbai and properties in Jabalpur and other places.(Source: Cleanganga.com, Oct 2002)
Environmentalists who had worked on the Betwa water scandal ended their campaign in 1997 when an alternative piped source of clean water was provided. (The river continued to be polluted.) Now they wished they had pressed on with their investigations.
Speaking to www.cleanganga.com in September 2002, Dhiraj Shah, who was part of Vidisha’s core group against pollution, says they regret not having pursued the case in 1996-97. “We should not have let up pressure after we had been given an alternative source of water supplies,” he says ruefully. This group now realizes they had the power to make a lasting difference. “Who knows,” says Shah, “the Betwa may have been rid of all pollution, had we refused the alternative source of water. Then, perhaps the government would have had to ensure that there would no one would be allowed to pollute our source of water.” (Source: Cleanganga.com, Oct 2002)
It is truly a shame. 1997 was the year that NEERI presented its “all-clear” report. Survivors have real cause to regret that Jain was not exposed then, before he and his cronies had certified Union Carbide’s deadly factory fit to hand back to the State.
Even as he accepted NEERI’s findings, Jain knew they were wrong. He already knew that drinking wells in communities near the factory were polluted – and specifically by poisons from the factory. How? Because before he was appointed to the Pollution Control Board in 1997, he was head of the Public Health Engineering department, and the PHE runs the State Research Laboratory in Bhopal. In 1996 the State Research Laboratory tested water in wells in Jayaprakash Nagar, Atal Ayub Nagar, Arif Nagar, Chhola and Kainchi Chhola all situated close to the Union Carbide factory. The following is an extract from the Chief Chemist’s report:
The tubewells in these areas were tested five years back and at that time too the results showed chemical contamination. Hence, it is established that this pollution is due to chemicals used in the Union Carbide factory that have proven to be extremely harmful for health. Therefore the use of this water for drinking must be stopped immediately. (Source: Handwritten report in Hindi signed by Chief Chemist of State Research Laboratory, Bhopal, 28 November 1996)
The report and its findings were suppressed by Jain.
Bhopal.Net has a copy of the report in the Chief Chemist’s own handwriting. (Like Carbide’s poisons, the report leaked – thereby incidentally proving that there are plenty of honest people in the Madhya Pradesh government.) This is the crucial passage:
We have had this document for three years. What we did not realise until last week, when we got hold of Carbide’s secret documents, was just how brazen a scam Jain had worked – and with what lofty confidence. Obviously, he believed he was safe. He must have had powerful protectors.
The outing of Jain was particularly embarrassing to Chief Minister Digvijay Singh. For days after Jain’s arrest, while media interest intensified, Digvijay’s administration dithered about what to do – and did nothing.
State officials realise that delay in taking action against Jain could adversely affect Digvijay Singh’s carefully cultivated green image. “I don’t know what the government will do since we haven’t received any report from the Lokayukta,” says Satyananda Mishra, Principal Secretary (Housing and Environment). (Source: Indian Express 26 February 2001)
But there was more than a green image at stake. Digvijay Singh’s judgement was on the line. He must have thought Jain was doing a good job as MPPCB Chairman, because he had arranged for him to serve a second term.
Jain seems to have been using the pollution control board as “a money-making machine” since he became its chairman… The state government had extended his term only last November despite grave allegations against Jain and his coterie within the board…A retired Engineer-in-Chief of the Public Health Engineering Department, Jain was made chairman of the Board in 1997 at the instance of a senior Congress leader whose advice Digvijay Singh could not ignore. Jain soon established direct links with the Chief Minister and was reappointed last year… (Source: Indian Express 2 March 2001)
But Jain couldn’t be saved, and further investigation revealed the entire State Pollution Control Board to be so deeply mired in graft its members were sacked en masse and the Board temporarily ceased to exist.
What particularly interests us is the timing of Jain’s appointment as Chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board. It took place in 1997, months after he had learned that Carbide’s chemicals were poisoning local well water, and just in time to take charge of the discussions surrounding NEERI’s second report – a report which Union Carbide, Arthur D Little and Mr V.K. Jain all knew to be irredeemably flawed, but which Carbide desperately wanted him to accept. Jain duly accepted the report. The question that must now be answered is, did he accept anything else?
Did Jain take money or gifts from Union Carbide/Eveready Industries to conceal from the Madhya Pradesh government the truth about the poisoning of the groundwater, “the seriousness of which need hardly be elaborated” (according to Carbide document UCC2268)? If that is what happened, it makes the company guilty of yet another crime, and deepens its liability, no matter who else was at fault.
The Indian Express said that Jain was appointed “at the instance of a senior Congress leader whose advice Digvijay Singh could not ignore.” Who was this persuasive fellow? It should not be very difficult to find out. Writing in the Free Press Journal, a few days after the 1984 disaster, Rajkumar Keswani, the journalist whose warnings had been ignored, said:
Mr. (name withheld by the present author) former Inspector General of State police was employed by Carbide as security adviser after his retirement. This shielded them from the police. A Congress (I) Leader is their lawyer. The posh Union Carbide guesthouse was always at the disposal of the ruling party. A separate suite was reserved for Chief Minister______. Mr______ used to stay there whenever in Bhopal. During the Congress (I) regional conference, all central Ministers were accommodated there. Senior politicians and civil servants were obliged to the company for employing their sons and relatives on fat salaries. On its payroll are the nephews of former Education Minister______ and Irrigation Minister______
(Source: Free Press Journal, quoted in “A Cloud over Bhopal” 1985, by Alfred de Grazia, online version on grazian-archive.com. Names were deleted by de Grazia)
Now here is another thing. Before the MPPCB was dissolved, it had been trying to obtain funding from the Canadian Development Agency to pay for cleaning up the very site which three years earlier it had accepted as safe. The sum mentioned was around 200 crores, roughly US $41.5 million or UK£26.7 million, most of which was expected to go to a Canadian firm, R. J. Burnside International Ltd, whose cause was being enthusiastically promoted by none other than our old friend Jain.
Seeking financial assistance from Canadian International Development Agency to carry out feasibility studies for decontaminating soils and material, MPPCB Chairman V. K. Jain in a letter to the Agency’s Chairman, Leonard Good, said that the national level research laboratories in India had advised the Board to incinerate the toxic waste but since he had come to know of advance research in Canada and elsewhere about other ways of handling such waste in more eco-friendly and cost-effective ways therefore it seemed more appropriate if a Canadian firm was given the task of toxic waste disposal. He further mentioned that the MPPCB had already initiated discussions with a Canadian environment engineering firm, R J Burnside International Ltd (BIL), to conduct feasibility studies for the remediation of the contaminated soils and materials. (Source: Hindustan Times, 24 May 2000)
Jain had recently been the company’s guest in Canada, and his record gives us good reason to suspect why it might not have been in certain interests to have Union Carbide clean up its own site properly. So long as it remained contaminated and a serious threat to health, big international money could be solicited to clean it up. For a corrupt politician, or bureaucrat, in a position to grant contracts and direct the use of such funds, Union Carbide’s deadly factory was not a toxic dump, but a goldmine, an el dorado.
Dear Mr Singh – “Diggy Raja” (King Diggy) as you are apparently known to your chums – a little bird tells us that you have ambitions to be India’s next Prime Minister. Your own government’s website extols your virtues thus:
In recognition of his efforts in conserving water and soil, Shri (Digvijay) Singh was invited to participate in the World Water Forum held at The Hague in March 2000. He was also invited to share his experiences on a panel on poverty reduction strategies held as a part of Social Summit of the UN General Assembly in Geneva in July 2000. In recognition of his innovative style of governance, he was invited to participate in the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland in January 2001. (source: MP Govt Public Relations)
We invite you to live up to those claims. So far, your efforts at conserving water and soil have not extended to the contaminated soil and poisoned water that are threatening thousands of lives in your own capital city. And while in the past you have been a great champion of the gas victims – going on fasts, sitting in dharnas – since you became Chief Minister, you appear to have forgotten that they exist.
On December 1, 2000, the Chief Minister, Mr Digvijay Singh announced at a “meet the press” meeting that the Department of Gas Relief had outlived its utility, since the “city’s residents are no longer suffering from the after effects of the Bhopal gas disaster.” (Bhopal.Net “Sixteenth Anniversary Statement”
Of course you know – and we know – and you know we know – and we know you know we know – that this is utter nonsense. But isn’t it a fact that the whole issue of the gas victims and their continuing problems has become an embarrassment to you?
It will not be inappropriate to say that Mr Digvijay Singh forgot the gas victims after becoming the Chief Minister. Eight years of his rule have been full of scandals involving the money meant for medicines and rehabilitation of the gas victims. So many cases have gone to the courts, the Human Rights Commission and the Lokayukta. The hospitals were constructed but these were not equipped. Costly equipment was purchased but the staff to operate them were not recruited. Medicines purchased in bulk for the gas victims were sold in the black market. Rampant corruption was reported in the payment of compensation. The condition of gas victims deteriorated in proportion to the money spent in their name. Mr Digvijay Singh had started distancing himself from the gas victims soon after becoming Chief Minister in December, 1993. There was no word about them in his party’s 1998 manifesto. (Chandigarh Tribune, 2 December 2001)
If you are to rule India, you will have to demonstrate a great deal more compassion for the poor and helpless than you have recently shown. You will also have to prove that, despite the complete mess your government made of handling one US corporation, you are not a hopeless incompent, or worse. In the light of what has emerged from Union Carbide’s secret papers, you will have to reassure the survivors, the public and the media that you are not tainted by your association with Jain, the man you twice appointed. Quite apart from the Jain affair, and the sordid allegations surrounding the steady embezzlement of gas victims’ money, isn’t your administration already up to its ears in enough scandals? Among them:
Charges of large-scale embezzlement of funds amounting to Rs 5 billion (Rs 500 crore) by MP Electricity Board officials in collaboration with industrialists… Animal Husbandry Minister KP Singh has been found guilty of illegal mining in Shivpuri district and of violating green belt norms by a team of experts appointed by the Supreme Court acting on a Public Interest Litigation by Santosh Bhartiya of Damoh town… Harvansh Singh, another minister close to the chief minister, may face some embarrassment because of his alleged links with the transport mafia. (Rediff.com, 22 July 2002)
There was talk recently, was there not, of using the undistributed portion of the funds intended for gas victims to pay for cleaning up the factory? It makes the blood run cold just to think of it.
Here is what you should do, Mr Singh, if you want anyone to take seriously either your green claims, or your credentials as a moral leader.
First, support the class action suit filed by survivors organisations and supporters against Union Carbide Corporation in a New York court by submitting an “amicus curae” brief. The plaintiffs in the class action want to compel Union Carbide (that is, Dow Chemical) pay for the clean-up of the site and contaminated water to the highest world standards. (Please refer to the guidelines drawn up by Greenpeace which have already been presented to you.)
Second, launch a thorough public investigation into the connections between Union Carbide/Eveready Industries and V.K. Jain, the former head of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board and his associates.
Third, drop all charges against those arrested on Monday 25th at the Union Carbide factory and instead give your warm and wholehearted support to their efforts to contain the poisonous waste.
Fourth, discipline the policeman who disgraced your police force and your government before the entire world and instruct the Director General of Police to issue an apology for his force’s unprovoked violence.
You once said, ”We provide the resources, the people provide the energy.” Well, on Monday the people provided the energy.
We now challenge you to say clearly and without equivocation whose side your government is on: the people whose well-being it is your sworn duty to protect, or the wealthy foreign corporation?
Our friend in Bhopal was right to plead that (despite the beating-up he himself had received at the hands of Chouhan in that truck) that we should not move the focus away from Dow-Carbide.
Ciao, Moté. You will no doubt become a figure of ridicule in the streets of Bhopal. Women will laugh in your face and jokes will be cracked about your prodigious belly and exceedingly small “meat cudgel”. Your flailing fists and boots were shocking, but are nothing compared to the crime that lies behind all of this, and still overshadows every life within two miles of that dead and stinking plant.
Behind all of this is Union Carbide, now part of Dow Chemical of DDT, napalm, and dioxin fame. Carbide claims that the Madhya Pradesh government knew the state the plant was in when the lease was handed back. But V.K. Jain knowing is not the same as the state government knowing. Colluding with a corrupt local official or officials is itself a crime. Whoever else may be at fault, it makes Carbide – and thus its parent Dow – doubly liable for the clean-up.
But what has in any case emerged from Union Carbide’s “poison papers” is a crime far more wicked than environmental pollution, or conspiring with a corrupt official. Union Carbide knew in 1989 that water from its plant had caused instant 100% mortality among fish. Barbed wire fences and cement walls don’t go deep enough to stop underground seepage. What sort of human beings continued to assure people that their drinking water was safe, while knowing all along that poisons were slowly killing them? Knowing also that the people they were allowing to be poisoned were the very same people whose lives their 1984 gas leak had already devastated?
This time there was no accident. The decision to hide the true situation from local people and from the Madhya Pradesh government was cold, deliberate and pre-meditated.
The instant that even one person can be shown to have died from drinking water poisoned by Union Carbide’s plant, then this becomes a case of murder. When a corporation commits cold, premeditated and remorseless murder, not only should its top executives be charged with that crime, but the company itself should be condemned to death – the revocation of its charter.
And when people try to stop murder, they should be helped, not beaten with sticks and boots and fists.
Additional reporting by Sarvadarshi in Bhopal
Please email Mr Digvijay Singh, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, demanding that he take immediate action to force Dow Chemical to pay for the clean-up to the highest international standards of its subsidiary Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal. Soil and groundwater contamination must be eliminated. Clean drinking water should be provided to communities whose water sources have been polluted. Additionally pleae demand that all charges against the clean-up team be dropped, that survivors’ future clean-up efforts should be warmly supported, and that an apology be issued by the Director General of Madhya Pradesh police for the unacceptable violence of his men.
This article @ and © Bhopal.Net 2002
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