Comment on the Bhopal gas tragedy judgement from ICJB and Lokayat

Comment by Lokayat on the Judgement given in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case on behalf of

lnternational Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB)

On behalf of struggling victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy who have been fighting for the last 25 years for justice, we’d like to thank the media for the excellent and sympathetic coverage given to the case and the strong comments given by the media on the judgement.

The judgement is indeed disappointing. It is indeed a making mockery of the victims of the world’s worst industrial disaster. After 25 years of trial, in an accident wherein more than 25000 have died so far and more than 1 lakh are sick with severely impaired lungs, eyes, reproductive and immune systems, and mental health, yet the company’s Indian officials have only been sentenced to a mere 2 years in jail and a nominal fine. They have immediately got bail, and in all probability, they will never go to jail. Such a minor sentence, which is similar to the sentence given for rash driving. When it was not an accident, the company was being run in such a risky way so as to maximise its profits that the gas leak was bound to happen. In fact the safety officer of the company resigned six months before the December 1984 gas leak, saying in his resignation letter that the way the company was being run, an accident is bound to happen sooner or later.

The gas leak was waiting to happen. Union Carbide had knowingly designed the plant with inferior and unproven technology. Then, to enhance profits, the company went on a cost cutting drive: reducing personnel, adopting hazardous operating procedures, and cutting down on vital safety measures and plant maintenance. In 1982, a safety audit warned of a high potential for a gas leak. Workers injuries, gas leaks, even deaths predated the disaster. But all these warnings were ignored, in the lust for profits. On the night of the disaster, none of the six safety systems designed to prevent or contain a leak were working! Some of them had deliberately been shut down to save electricity bills!!

Despite all this evidence, the investigation was carried out so shoddily by the CBI that all the accused have got away with very light sentences. The reason for this shoddy investigation is that there was no political will to pursue the cases strongly: from the very day of the disaster, the government has tried its best to ensure that Union Carbide gets away lightly. The Chief Executive Officer of Union Carbide Mr. Warren Anderson was allowed to fly back to the USA on bail, and since then no attempt has been made to extradite him to India. The Supreme Court has also sided with the company rather than the people of India. When the government entered into a completely unjust out of court settlement with Union Carbide wherein all that the company had to pay as compensation was a mere $470 million (or merely Rs. 25000 for each survivor for a lifetime of illnesses), the Supreme Court upheld the settlement. Not only that, in 1996, the Supreme Court also diluted the charges against the company’s officials, which is one of the reasons why these officials have got away with such minor sentences.

The government has also made no serious attempt to implicate the successor company of Union Carbide, Dow Chemicals, a US based multinational, in the case, despite the fact that Dow is now responsible for all liabilities of Union Carbide. That Dow is responsible for Carbide’s liabilities is evident from the filings by Union Carbide with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): “Since February 6, 2001, the Corporation has been a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company as a consequence of the Corporation merging with a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow effective that date.” In the case of a statutory merger, where the selling corporation becomes the buyer’s subsidiary, its liabilities as well as its assets are transferred by operation of law.

Some time ago, the ICJB got to know that the government is trying to ensure that Dow gets away with its liabilities arising out of the Bhopal Gas Disaster. We filed an RTI with the Indian Embassy in Washington and got out the relevant correspondence from which our worst fears came true. Here is an extract from a letter written by Mr. Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow, on to the Indian Ambassador, in which he says: “It was a pleasure to see you again at the US-India CEO Forum in New York on 25 October… Given the statements made by the GOI representatives in front of all meeting attendees that Dow is not responsible for Bhopal and will not be pursued by the GOI, it will be important to follow through to ensure that concrete sustained actions are taken that are consistent with these statements…”

Given these assurances, it is not surprising that the government has not made any attempt to get its investigating arm, the CBI, to seriously pursue the case against the Indian and foreign officials of Union Carbide. That is the reason why Warren Anderson has still not been extradited to India, and the Indian officials have got away with such light sentences for murdering more than 25,000 people.

In March 2008, the Bhopal gas survivors walked 800 kms from Bhopal to Delhi. There, they sat down on an indefinite hunger strike. Finally, the Prime Minister met them. But Manmohan Singh refused to give a commitment on seriously prosecuting Dow-Carbide, saying “We have to do business” and “India has to survive despite all these tragedies.” Whose government is it?

What is even more shocking is that despite such a huge disaster, the government is actually considering passing a Liability Bill to limit the liability of nuclear power corporations in the case of a major accident! It is actually in violation of the law of the country as laid down by the Supreme Court that the polluter should pay for any accident. The government is creating the grounds for more Bhopals to take place.

The leaders of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Survivors organisations, together with the ICJB, are studying the judgement of the court. We plan to mount pressure on the CBI to file a revision petition in the High Court demanding enhanced sentences for the Carbide officials, and are also going to mount political pressure on the government to see that the CBI files this case and seriously pursue it. For this, we plan to intensify the global campaign for justice for the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, and even organise big protests in Delhi if necessary.

Apart from that, our efforts to mount pressure on the government and the CBI to diligently pursue the extradition of Warren Anderson to India will continue.

One Response to Comment on the Bhopal gas tragedy judgement from ICJB and Lokayat

  1. rajshree kujur says:

    why only ucc be held liable the govt. machinery should also be brought to task for allowing ucc to function in vilation of the safety norms. nobody is speaking about the liability of the central govt. which allowed ucc to start the operations in gross violations of norms?

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