Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Bhopal Victims, Mr Andreson (Union Carbide) and Globalisation

Globalization of Profits and Localization of Risk
Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) chemical plant, before its fatal gas leakage in 1984, manufactured pesticides using the hazardous & toxic chemical, methylisocyanate (MIC) (CH3-N=C=O) as an intermediate. This lachrymatory liquid, a gas above 39 degree cellcious is corrosive to the eyes, lungs and skin and on exposure causes acute symptoms of burning, breathlessness, stomach pains and vomiting. Death is a result of choking, reflexogenic circulatory collapse or pulmonary oedema (drowning due to fluid accumulation in the lungs). These symptoms are similar to those diagnosed for exposure to chemical weapons.
Recently, the Academy for Socio-Legal Studies, a Voluntary Organization well known for the Right to Justice Campaign, organised a seminar to debate a row in the controversial decision of the Supreme Court of India which sealed the fate of thousands of dead and survivors of the UCIL gas leakage in Bhopal in 1984 due to poor standards on health and safety. In fact, the amount of compensation added an insult to injury to the victims and their families. The seminar was held on 3rd July 2010 in Jaipur in which social workers, lawyers, retired High Court Judges and Civil Society groups participated. Mr Gurucharan Singh Khanuja was present in the midst of the tragic accident. He helped in saving hundreds lives, but lost his eyes in the process.
The main thrust of the seminar was to engage in exposing those responsible in letting Mr. Anderson, Chairman of the UCIL in India, escape to US despite being taken into the Police custody under a non-Bailable FIR registered against him. The participants believed that the responsibility clearly rests personally on Mr Arjun Singh and late Rajive Gandhi, then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and the Prime Minister of India, respectively. In fact, the intention of the congress govt appeared somewhat sceptical even before the court decision was promulgated. For example, during Rajive Gandhi’s visit to US after he was sworn in as the new Prime-Minister (‘a computer boy’), the international media asked him about the heinous crime committed by the UCIL and any assistance that they could offer to put pressure on the UCIL so that the victims could get justice most expeditiously. Mr Gandhi’s telling reply was, “the matter is subjudiced”, which shocked everyone including the media. Rather than seeking help of the international media and legal community in getting quick relief and justice to victims, Mr Gandhi had chosen to dilute the issue in the service of his imperial masters although there was no gagging order.  One of the authors of this story was in US at the relevant time.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India gave a judgement after waiting for 25 years, in which Mr Warren Anderson got only a 2 years sentence and the main company involved in mass murder was allowed to go scot-free. In fact, the entire judicial exercise appeared an exercise in naiveté as the well known saying goes, “Justice is delayed and justice is denied”. Following the decision of the Supreme Court, the opposition parties demanded that the Indian government should put pressure on the US government to extradite Mr. Anderson and should take immediate measures to punish him according to the Indian laws. It was suggested that if the United States refuses to comply with the extradition request, India should suspend the ongoing strategic dialogue with the US and reconsider the liability clause (limited liability) in the Civil Nuclear Agreement. India should also look at its policy of blind support for expansion of multinational companies and the opening of financial markets under the umbrella of globalization at the costs of poor health and safety and compromising environmental issues (Profs Panagariya and Bhagwati exported the globalization to India as if it would cure the problems of the Poor India). Further, the Indian government must consider amending its security laws (SEBI) to incorporate a provision for a mandatory disclosure of contingencies in the companies’ balance sheets so that the trial attorneys could use them to seek just and fair compensation for the victims in the eventually of untoward accidents.
Clearly, the Court’s decision is a betrayal of the people of the country as the judiciary made a mockery of the dead, survivors and the families of victims. In afct, it would appear to independent observers that the justice has not been seen to be done. Particularly, two judges, Justice Ahmadi and Justice Pathak who were  then the sitting justices at the relevant times, were rewarded by the US government and the UCIL. Justice Ahmadi was appointed as the Head of the Hospital Trust established by the Company and Justice RS Pathak got nominated as judge for the International Court of Justice. It was a clear sell out of the 15 thousand people who lost their lives and other thousands of victims including the new generation which continues to have the adverse effects of poisonous gas. The participants of the seminar strongly felt that the media was diverting the public attention from real issues rather than exposing the judiciary and those responsible for the tragic accident. Thus, the media has generated a ridiculous political-judicial drama and futile debate.
It appears what is not being explored by the media or the participants of the seminar are as follows: (i) the Collector of Bhopal (being an officer of Indian Civil Services should have left last like a captain of the sinking ship) and Mr Arjun Singh, then the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh flee away from the city (of course, in air-conditioned cars) and ordered an evacuation, (ii) those who followed the erroneous advice of te Collector & MR Singh to evacuate and rushed out of the city could not survive as they were inhaling more Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) than those who stayed back and covered their face with wet towels and washed their eyes and face. In fact, they were running in the direction of the clouds sucking poisonous gas, (iii) UCIL funded and controlled Hospital to treat the victims of MIC is not that simple and selfless. The data have a potential use for developing chemical warfare as the US did in Vietnam, (iv) a long term psychological effects on the victims and their families, (v) India has attracted foreign investment due to low cost of production due to low wages and less stringent safety standards, etc. We do not know what action was taken against the fleed IAS officer who could be a potential accessory to Mr Anderson’s escape from the country and for the genocide.
The rights of the victims are very well known, what was needed from the media was to expose, both the Congress Government and the Judiciary who connived in the miscarriage of justice to protect the culprits and the interests of global capitalism propagated by Pro-American lobbiest like Bhagwati-Panagariya & Co. The net result of the conspiracy is neither the surviving victims got proper medical care and rehabilitation assistance nor did the dependents of the dead received even markable compensation. This reminds me of a well know American movie “Erin Brockovich”, Directed by Steven Soderbergh with Julia Roberts, David Brisbin, Dawn Didawick highlights the struggle for compensation which gave the victims a huge compensation for environmental disaster. What is being offered to victims in India is nothing but just peanuts?
Mr Premkrishna Sharma and Mr. Kailash Kumbhkar, President and Secretary of the Academy for Socio-Legal Studies issued an open letter outlining the conclusions of the Seminar and made the following suggestions:-
1. An independent Public Authority is constituted in such cases of mass tragedies for giving immediate effective relief to the victims for ascertaining adequate compensation. At the same time steps must be taken to recover damages from those responsible without delay and for taking effective steps to prevent such happenings in future;
2. The governments, both central & concerned state should immediately release the compensation ascertained by the Public Authority to be paid to the victims. It shall be recovered from the responsible body or persons by the Public Authority and paid back to the governments;
3. All Such dangerous factories or establishments be identified through out the country and be relocated into safe places away from populated areas and no new such factories are allowed to be established near populated area;.
4. The concerned state authorities as well as judiciary is made accountable for their acts of omissions and commissions and a time frame strictly set for deciding all cases whether civil or criminal;
5. The compensation package to surviving victims and dependents of dead victims both is substantially increased at least four times than the present one.

Dr S Deman, Economist                       Dr Claudius D'Silva
BSc, MA(India), MA,ABD (US)             MSc, PhD, FRSC (UK)
M.Phil (UK), PhD (Japan)                   Senior Lecturer in Chemistry

Also see: http://cemkumar.blogspot.com/

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