Responses to Judgement on Bhopal Gas Leak of 1984 – PUDR, TASAM, ICJB, NAPM, Radical Socialists

June 9, 2010

On June 15, a protest rally is being organised in Kolkata. It begins at 4pm from the Metro Channel (Esplanade East) and will head towards the American consulate.

Click here to read the Bengali pamphlet for the rally.

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PUDR Press Statement

The Definiton of Injustice: The Bhopal Gas Murders

PUDR believes that the latest judgment on the Bhopal gas leak of 1984 is a complete farce and absolutely criminal in the gap between the enormity of the crime and the punishment meted out to the offenders, a direct reflection of the gap between the social location of the victims and the accused. But more than the lower judiciary which delivered the verdict, it is the Supreme Court which is at fault. It’s the Supreme Court that settled for paltry compensation, and also reduced the charges from culpable homicide not amounting to murder to death due to criminal negligence under which the sentencing was done. Besides the judiciary the role of the government has been equally at fault- the CBI was allegedly instructed not to go after Warren Anderson, the compensation is being awarded arbitrarily, arduous mechanisms were set up for its disbursement which were inherently given to corruption. And in all these years the government ignored the victims.

Why did it not step in and award compensation and provide for the healthcare and well being of those affected? As it is the state which grants corporations the rights to set up projects in India, if it fails to enforce its laws and make them accountable, it becomes the moral responsibility of the state to bear the brunt as in this case. Which it hasn’t done. The Union Carbide case raises serious questions about multinational projects, the government’s credibility when it says that it will ensure that justice is done to the people who are displaced or otherwise effected and ensure the safety and constitutional rights of its people . It exposes the nexus between the Indian state and multinationals where the rights and lives of common people come cheap.

PUDR demands:

1. The Govt. of India file a case under culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
2. It pursue all possible alternatives for the extradition and conviction of Warren Anderson.
3. That the compensation be enhanced, and equitably, speedily and justly disbursed.
4. An investigation be conducted into the role of various state organizations and the guilty punished.

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TASAM Press Release

[The statement was distributed today in the press conference held at the Kolkata Press Club by a section of scientists, doctors, teachers, social activists et al. A rally is going to be organized on 15th June demanding the extradition of Warren Anderson. The rally will start from the Metro Channel at 4:00PM which will proceed towards the American Center. This is a citizens’ initiative.]

Kolkata, 9 June 2010

The recent verdict on the Bhopal gas disaster case cannot be accepted by any Indian citizen who cares for the people and the country. The way the case of the mass murder has been diluted to a mere accident leading to the travesty of judgement is a great betrayal not only of the gas victims but of the entire nation.

We hold that the UCIL has succeeded in its gameplan thanks to the India political clout and the Indian legal system. In fact, without the active assistance of the ruling parties and the Indian courts, it would not have succeeded. The slavish attitude of the government towards the multinational corporation makes us wonder whether we are going back to the age of the East India Company.

The monopolising and appropriation of the disaster by the government is what led to the fallout and the Bhopal Gas Disaster (Prevention and Claims) Act 1985, which was the mechanism through which the gameplan was achieved. It is an anti-national act.

In 1986, it may be noted, Justice P.N. Bhagawati, while deciding Shriram’s case involving oleum gas leak, observed that enterprises engaged in ultra-hazardous activities owed an absolute and non-delegable duty to ensure that no harm was done. But, in the Bhopal gas tragedy case, this view was not at all considered by the Supreme Court.

In 1984, another disaster took place in Alaska following an oil spill caused by a Valdez oil tanker. In that case, approximately 40,000 US dollars were spent on the rehabilitation of every victim, along with other facilities. The company, Exxon Valdez, itself spent billions of dollars to clean up the damage. So, it is quite apparent that the life of an Indian citizen in Bhopal is considered to be much cheaper than that of a victim in the US.

The UCIL is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which has shrugged its responsibility of the disaster. We note with horror that Dow Chemicals is involved in the proposed chemical hub to be set up at Nayachar in West Bengal. And this is being built at an ecologically fragile zone, too. We apprehend that a new script of disaster is thus being written in this state that may lead to an even greater tragedy than Bhopal. We demand that the Nayachar chemical hub project be scrapped immediately.

For the same reasons, we also demand that the proposed nuclear power plant project at Haripur in West Bengal must also be scrapped. A nuclear power plant is intrinsically hazardous and can cause a much more fierce disaster than Bhopal. We note with grave concern that the Union government is conspiring to minimise its responsibility towards protecting the lives of its citizens in the event of a future nuclear disaster by introducing the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. We call upon the citizens to foil this conspiracy.

In this context, we would also like to point out that since 1984, almost no order of the high courts or the Supreme Court on the Bhopal disaster has been pro-people. For example, in 2007, the court intervened on the issue of availability of drinking water for the gas-affected people. There was mercury and benzene contamination within a radius of 3 km from the factory site. But the verdict benefited only 20-25,000 out of the 5.5 lakh people who were suffering from the scarcity of drinking water in this area. The claims of more than five lakh people disabled after the disaster have also not been settled.

Under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, an industrial worker losing a limb was entitled to a compensation of Rs 1 lakh in 1984. Now the amount has been increased to Rs 5 lakh. It is shocking, therefore, that the victims of the world’s worst industrial disaster were offered a compensation of only Rs 12,500 each in Bhopal.

In 1987, three legal safeguards were put up in the wake of the public uproar following Bhopal, seeking to strengthen the protection against future industrial disasters. These were the Factory Act (Amendment), Public Liabilities Insurance Act and Air Pollution Act. These Acts raised the level of protection for the workers, made outsiders affected by an industrial accident eligible for compensation, and categorised hazardous factories as ‘red’, ‘high red’, etc. But these Acts have never been enforced properly.

In West Bengal, as many as 617 industrial units were identified as highly hazardous in 2007 under the provisions of the Factories Act section 87. A committee, named the Major Hazardous Industries (MHI) Committee, led by the chief secretary was supposed to monitor these units and prepare a disaster management plan. The committee did not do its work.

In recent years, the number of MHIs has increased considerably in West Bengal, since the majority of the new industries coming up in the wake of the industrialisation drive by the state government are in this category. These include chemical and rubber, sponge iron, asbestos, cement, ferro-alloy and similar industries. There is no preparedness for meeting a disaster in the wake of an accident in these units. On the other hand, these are routinely spreading pollution with impunity. Our experience with the sponge iron factories has been particularly frustrating, where even a court ruling has been overturned by an executive order. The Green Bench of the Calcutta High Court has been made practically defunct.

As a result, West Bengal is sitting on a veritable powder-keg. After the 1984 Bhopal disaster, we had raised the slogan: “No More Bhopal”. Now, many more potential Bhopals have been created in our state.

We demand:
1.The Government of India must take effective measures to extract the maximum compensation for the gas victims and rehabilitation of the survivors from the company and take full responsibility to implement the compensation and rehabilitation process.
2.Anderson must be brought to India to face justice at any cost.
3.No Nayachar, No Haripur – No More Bhopal in future.

Professor Manindra Narayan Majumdar, Professor Rabin Majumdar, Professor Partha Sarathi Roy, Professor Abhee Dutt-Mazumder, Professor Suvendu Dasgupta, Dr Debapriya Mallik, Dr Hiralal Koanar, Naba Dutta, Prasun Bhaumik, Sujato Bhadra and others.

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International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, Press Statement

June 7, 2010

Terming today’s verdict and sentence against 7 officials of Union Carbide India Ltd., and the company an utter disappointment, Bhopal survivors today said they are resolved to challenge it in higher legal fora. “We feel outraged and betrayed. This is not justice. This is a travesty of justice”, said Hazra Bee of International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. “The paltry sentencing is a slap in the face of suffering Bhopal victims.” Survivors have condemned the Indian government’s criminal negligence in the prosecution of those accused of responsibility for the world’s worst corporate massacre.

They said that as the Minister in charge of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Prime Minister must accept blame for the prosecuting agency’s incompetence and mishandling of the case.

UCIL’s 7 Indian officials were awarded a 2-year prison sentence and a paltry fine of Rs. 101,750 (about $2100) today, while Union Carbide India Ltd (now Eveready Industries India Ltd) was fined Rs. 5,00,000 ($11000). All accused are out on bail of Rs. 25,000. Today’s verdict was in the case against only the 9 Indian accused (8 individuals and UCIL), one of whom died in the course of the trial. The foreign accused “Union Carbide Corporation, Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Eastern” are absconding and the CBI has failed to take action to bring them to India to face trial.

The verdict was greeted with protests, slogan-shouting and die-ins by irate Bhopalis who defied prohibitory orders to vent their anger outside the court. “By handling those those guilty of the world’s worst industrial disaster so leniently, our courts and Government are telling dangerous industries and corporate CEOs that they stand to lose nothing even if they put entire populations and the environment at risk”, said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

The organizations said that in 18 years the CBI had not even been able to bring the principal accused; Union Carbide, USA and its former Chairman Warren Anderson, to face trial. Further, because of CBI’s inept handling, a third foreign accused  – Union Carbide Eastern Inc, Hong Kong has managed to escape the criminal proceedings altogether. “There is documentary evidence that Union Carbide, USA and Anderson knew that the Bhopal plant design was based on ‘untested technology’, they were in full control over operations and safety of the factory and it is they who directed reckless cost-cutting. Justice cannot be done in Bhopal till these principal accused are brought to trial”, said Rashida Bee who has lost six people in her family due to the disaster.

According to the organizations, the CBI did nothing when Supreme Court’s Justice A M Ahmadi diluted the charges against the Indian accused in 1996. “Ahmadi converted the Bhopal disaster to the equivalent of a traffic accident. Without assessing the full evidence, he reduced the prison term for the crimes of Bhopal from 10 years to 2 years and the CBI made not a single effort to get this legally unsound order revised”, said Syed M Irfan, president of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha.

Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, one of the three organizations assisting the prosecution, said that glaring omissions in the CBI’s presentation of evidence against the Indian accused amounted to derogation of the prosecution’s duty. “The CBI failed to produce evidence regarding the role of Keshub Mahindra and other accused in deliberate acts undermining operational safety such as design modification, rewriting of operation manuals and decommissioning the crucial refrigeration unit.” he said.

He said that CBI’s “go soft” approach against corporate crime is also evident in its inaction against Dow Chemical, current owner of Union Carbide, USA. “In January 2005 the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bhopal issued notice to Dow Chemical, USA for producing its subsidiary Union Carbide in his court. For the last four years the CBI has chosen not to act on this.” he said.

The organizations said that the Prime Minister must accept responsibility for the failure of the CBI in its role as the prosecuting agency. They called for the creation of a Special Prosecution Cell for effective and timely action on extradition of foreign accused and prosecution of Dow Chemical.

“The responsibility for this legal disaster rests squarely with the Prime Minister, who is the Minister in charge of CBI. CBI’s handling of this case was shoddy to say the least, and criminally negligent at worst”, said Sarangi.

The International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal (ICJB) is a coalition led by four survivor organizations along with environmental, social justice, progressive Indian, and human rights groups supporters around the world. ICJB works to hold the Indian Government and Dow Chemical Corporation accountable for the ongoing chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. It was set up to address the grave injustices suffered by the half million Bhopal Gas Disaster survivors.

For more information, contact:
In North America, Shana Ortman: 1-415-746-0306, ortmansh@…
In India, Nityanand Jayaraman: +91 9444082401

International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal leaders:
Rashida Bee, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Syed M Irfan, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, +91 93290 26319
Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal Group for Information and Action, +91 98261 67369
Safreen Khan, Children Against Dow Carbide, +91 9303831487

visit www.bhopal.net or www.studentsforbhopal.org

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Press Statement from NAPM

The Bhopal Verdict : A Tragedy for National Dignity and Justice

The National Alliance of People’s Movements is shocked and enraged at the recent judgement on Bhopal that not only comes 26 years too late but also makes a complete mockery of the concept of justice and the value of human lives.

The Government of India can undo this gross injustice only if it, presses more severe charges on the accused and brings Warren Anderson (press for his extradition) and others to book. In addition, the Government must live upto the promise it made to the victims and their supporters across the world in 2008 by setting up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal to look into the matters of relief and rehabilitation and environmental impact mitigation especially in relation to water.

This judgement is an insult to the 15,000 who died, continue to die and rubs salt on the unhealed wounds of those who survived numbering more than 3 lakhs even today and struggled in the face of unsurmountable odds for all these years. The public outrage over the verdict from all sections of the society is nothing but an expression of disgust with a deeply rotten political class which seems incapable of doing anything except shedding crocodile tears.

Despite being in positions of power and responsibility at the Centre and in Madhya Pradesh all the Political parties cutting across party lines, whether it is Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janta party or any other, have always preferred to ignore the demands of the survivors for justice and a life with dignity by bringing not only the UCIL, but also Union Carbide of USA including its then CEO Anderson and also Dow Chemicals (present owner) and others involved. Instead of working towards the prosecution of Warren Anderson, the Indian government in fact pressurized CBI to go soft on the Corporation and dilute the charges. The result of this effort is now for the entire world to see in form of the Bhopal Verdict which would perhaps only be remembered for how lives of millions of countrymen and women was compromised by all the organs of the state for corporate interests.

It’s a shame that our government continues to baulk under pressure from the US government and tirelessly works towards shielding the interests of US corporations as is evident on many occasions such as during the power-purchase agreement with Enron, Indo-US Civil Nuclear Co-operation deal right up to the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill in its current form. Perhaps our Government should understand the diplomacy and duplicacy of US in applying double standard in dealing with the BP Oil Spillage in one hand and Bhopal Gas Tragedy on the other. We believe Corporate Social Responsibility is not the way forward but instead corporate accountability is. Corporations, however big they are, cannot muddle with people’s rights and destroy the natural resource base on which people’s lives are dependent. It is time that the GoI is questioned on and compelled to, in consultation with people and their organisations, enact a new law making the corporations liable for the damages they incur on people and environment and send a strong message that people’s lives and justice are paramount.

We endorse the demand of the Bhopal gas disaster survivors and urge the Prime Minister to

1. 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.
# Set up the Empowered Commission on Bhopal to look into all aspects of the disaster including relief and rehabilitation as was promised by the Prime Minister yet betrayed.

We are also concerned at the seeming collusion of the judiciary with the Government that amounted to reducing the charges in the Bhopal Case, at the inordinate delay in delivering the judgement and finally failure in delivering justice. We need to remember that the role of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, headed by Justice Ahmedi who delivered the judgement in 1996 absolving UCC from criminal liability, has time and again come under criticism for discrimination against the gas victims and financial mismanagement. (http://bhopal.net/delhi-marchers/factsheets/BMHT%20sheet.pdf) We demand a thorough and impartial inquiry into this matter and an expedition of medical services to the gas victims.

We would like to remind that even today we are sitting at the verge of many potentially Bhopal-like disasters like nuclear power projects at Koodankulam, Jaitapur, Haripur: and also chemical and petroleum projects at Nayachar and PCPIR on the coast of Andhra Pradesh and other such chemical and nuclear hubs all across the country. We firmly believe that unless these projects are cancelled or grounded at their planning stage itself we will continue to witness situations like Bhopal and put the lives of our countrymen and women to greater risks. The GoI must stand by the stricter implementation of Environment Protection Act to monitor various projects in the country, neither succumb to pressure from other ministries nor compromise the interests of the people in favour of Corporations and other petty political compulsions as we continue to witness in various infrastructure, hydropower, thermal power, and nuclear energy projects.

No More Bhopal ! Salute, solidarity and all support to the indomitable spirit of struggling Bhopalis …

Aruna Roy (MKSS), Medha Patkar (NBA), Sandeep Pandey (NAPM UP), Maj Gen (Retd) S.G.Vombatkere (NAPM Karnataka), Anand Mazgaonkar (NAPM Gujarat), P Chennaiah, B Ramakrishna Raju, (NAPM – AP), Vimal Bhai, Rajendra Ravi, Madhuresh Kumar (NAPM Delhi), Prafulla Samantara (NAPM Orissa), Suniti S R (NAPM Maharashtra), Akhil Gogoi (Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, NAPM – Assam)

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Press Statement from Radical Socialists

Bhopal 26 years after: Playing Havoc with Humanity and the Environment

On the night of December 2-3 , 1984, the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal released methyl isocyanate and other toxins. The result was some 500,000 people were affected. Government agencies estimate that over 15000 people died. After 26 years, the court verdict for the Disaster finally came. And it was proof that after the first death there can be another. Some 25 years after the gas leak, 390 tons of toxic chemicals abandoned at the UCIL plant continue to leak and pollute the groundwater in the region and affect thousands of Bhopal residents who depend on it. On June 7, 2010, seven ex-employees including the former chairman of UCIL were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment each. An eighth former employee was also convicted but had died before judgement was passed. The sentences will run concurrently. The quantum of fine that chief judicial magistrate Mohan P Tiwari of the trial court in Bhopal has imposed is paltry. The court could have awarded exemplary fine on the accused and the delinquent company. Behind it stood the government, which had diluted the charges, so that convictions came only under sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 336, 337 and 338 (gross negligence), and 35 (common intention) of the India Penal Code.

Warren Anderson, who was then the CEO of Union Carbide, was arrested, but was released on bail, at the instance of powerful figures in the Indian ruling class and government, jumped the bail bond, and was never brought back to India because of the lax way in which India pursued the case. Likewise, the Government of India passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act that gave the government rights to represent all victims in or outside India, and used this to strike a bad deal with UCC, according to which it agreed to pay US$470 million (the insurance sum, plus interest) in a full and final settlement of its civil and criminal liability. This meant a total of Rs. 12,000 approximately per person. The US Court has ruled that there can be no extradition of Anderson since according to US law, that his company was guilty is immaterial. His personal criminality has to be proved.
Now owned by Dow Corporation, Union Carbide denies responsibility for the tragedy. They are willing to take the profits of Union Carbide India, but not take responsibility for its crimes. And the judiciary has shown that while it is willing to sentence to death an individual who kills for profit or for terrorism, when it is a matter of big corporate bodies it will soft pedal.

Bhopal is living evidence that the search for profits under the free market is incompatible with environmental safety and the health of workers and ordinary human beings. It is also proof that the bourgeois state is not neutral, neither the executive, nor the legislature, nor the judiciary. They will use heavy hands on the ordinary people, while they will merely lightly slap the bosses even when hundreds of thousands of people are affected. The entire struggle to get the truth over Bhopal revealed how the goal of profit maximization meant cutting safety measures. In India, unlike Union Carbide plants in the US, its Indian subsidiary plants were not prepared for problems. No action plans had been established to cope with incidents of this magnitude. This included not informing local authorities of the quantities or dangers of chemicals used and manufactured at Bhopal. UCC admitted in their own investigation report that most of the safety systems were not functioning on the night of December 3, 1984. The long term effects on public health have been severe. People have suffered and are still suffering from eye problems, respiratory problems, disorders of immunological and neurological systems, lung injury causing cardiac failure, female reproductive difficulties and birth defects among children born to affected women.

It is the ordinary people, affected, who have fought. Led by Champa Devi, on the 18th anniversary of the disaster, hundreds of women and men had demanded that Dow must take responsibility for UCC’s polluting and clean up the mess. We salute their spirit and call for full support to such struggles.

We demand:

1.Adequate compensation and rehabilitation for the affected gas victims, though the loss is irreparable.
2.Exemplary punishment for all the guilty upper level officials up to Anderson.
3.An immediate halt to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, in view of the Bhopal experience, which shows that the aim of the Indian state is to minimize the liabilities of capitalists, including non-Indian capitalists, even if, as in Bhopal, the worst non-nuclear environmental disaster in the world has occurred.
4.A countrywide check on all chemical industries and improvement of safety measures. No cuts in safety to maximize profits.

We call upon all working class organizations and other mass organizations to mobilize unitedly in struggle against the mass murder in Bhopal and its aftermath, for given the aims of Indian capitalism, including its recent cosying up to Dow Chemicals, nothing will be done to punish the guilty or take future safety measures unless mass working class struggles develop.