God of ‘Smaller’ Things

After the marathon meeting at White House with President Barack Obama, the other day, the British Petroleum Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s expression of concern for ‘the small people’ of the Gulf of Mexico region though ill phrased, the acceptance of blame, was complete. But in India unfortunately there is no blame or closure for ‘the even smaller people of Bhopal’.

Half a century have passed since the country’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal which saw a cloud deadly gases explode out of a faulty tank in a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide, and silently wafted over the sleeping city of Bhopal, killing over 20,000 people within days, and maiming another 5,00,000. The horrific effects of the gas continue to this day.  Thanks to our greedy politicians,  judiciary and bureaucracy, the Bhopal verdict which took almost 26 years to come and the compensation of Rs. 12,412 paid out to the victims, was too little too late. The verdict sparked nationwide anger. To drowse the fire the Government of India has set up a Group of Ministers to go into the same and submit a report tomorrow. Headed by Chidambaram, who at one point in time was rooting for The Dow Chemical Company, the current owners of Union Carbide, has had marathon meetings (even over the week-end) is expected to submit the report tomorrow.

I am also not dwelling into the hurry the Prime Minister has to ask the GoM to submit the report in 10 days. Neither am I expecting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be firm like President Barack Obama nor to have Dow Chemical Company or Union Carbide bigwigs to hand over their swords like the British Petroleum barons, in a submissive mea culpa. Here is what I believe is needed for ‘closure’ for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims and the next generation of Bhopal’s living children – blind, lame, limbs twisted or missing, deaf-mute, brain-damaged, with hare-lips, cleft palates, webbed fingers, cerebral palsy, tumours where should be eyes (still-born are still not recognised as human, unfortunately).

1) Rehabilitation

1. Set up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal with adequate authority and funds to be able to design and implement plans for medical care, training and employment generation, monthly pensions for those in need of support, supply of clean drinking water and protection from poisons in the soil and ground water in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory. The earlier GoM headed by Mr. Arjun Singh in its meeting on June 11, 2008 has already approved the setting up of the Empowered Commission on Bhopal (ECoB).  The proposal for the ECoB has been approved by several ministries and the Planning Commission.

2. Make good the shortfall in compensation in accordance with the directions of the October 3, 1991 revised order on settlement of the Supreme Court of India. There is documentary evidence to show that the settlement amount of 470 million dollars was not decided on the basis of deaths and injuries caused by the disaster but on the ease with which Union Carbide Corporation could pay the amount from its insurance coverage and special fund. The actual number of people who died and are injured as a result of the disaster is at least five times more than the figures used in arriving at a settlement amount. There is also substantial documentary evidence to show that injuries suffered by claimants were deliberately under assessed so that the overall damage caused by Union Carbide could be tailored down to fit the paltry settlement amount. While exposure related deaths continue to occur to this day, registration of exposure related deaths was stopped, without forwarding any reason or basis, in 1997. I believe that it is still possible to right the wrongs deliberately committed in the distribution of compensation if the Central government summons the necessary political will to do so.

3. Ensure provision of clean drinking water to the residents of the communities within 3 kilometers of the abandoned Union Carbide factory particularly in the North and North-east directions as per Supreme Court order of May 7, 2005. Despite allocation of Rs. 14.12 crores in 2006, due to the negligence of the Madhya Pradesh government in this vital matter, today over 20, 000 people are forced to drink water contaminated with cancer and birth defect causing chemicals and heavy metals and chemicals that cause damage to liver, kidneys, lungs, brain and the skin. The toxic contamination of ground water in these communities has been documented in 12 government and independent studies starting from 1990 and most recently in December 2009 by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Centre for Science and Environment.

4. Ensure excavation and containment of thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste that lie all over the surface in the factory premises and are buried within the factory premises and the Solar Evaporation Landfill 400 meters north of the factory. The safe excavation and containment of hazardous waste will stop the ongoing leaching of toxic chemicals and heavy metals in to the aquifer and prevent further environmental damage.

2) Criminal Liabilities

1. Work out a comprehensive industrial disaster legislation that fixes culpability and provides for a transparent mechanism for disbursement of compensation money in the event of an industrial disaster. Significant deterrents need to be in place to avoid a repeat of a tragedy like Bhopal.

2. Set up a Special Prosecution Cell in the CBI for securing the extradition of the absconding foreign accused and enhancement of sentences against the Indian accused.

3. Send appropriate requests for extradition of authorized representatives of Union Carbide Corporation, USA and Union Carbide Eastern Incorporated, Hong Kong and Warren Anderson. A Prime Minister who could pull of a Nuclear Accord with USA should be able to pull this off too.

4. Ensure execution of summons issued by Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal against authorized representative of The Dow Chemical Company, USA on January 6, 2005. There has been a stay on the execution of summons in the MP High Court for the last 5 years.

5. Ensure that the prosecuting agency inspects the Methyl Isocyante plant in Institute, West Virginia, USA as per order of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Bhopal, on 06 July 1988, to substantiate charges of double standards of design safety.

6. Ensure that the prosecuting agency takes cognizance and criminal action against the sale of Union Carbide patented technology to Reliance Petroleum Limited and other agencies while it is absconding.

7. Ensure that a revision petition is filed by the prosecution against the June 7, 2010 order of the Bhopal, CJM against the Indian accused in the Sessions or the High Court.

8. Ensure that the Central government files a curative petition in the Supreme Court for a revision of the order dated September 13, 1996 that diluted the criminal charges against Indian accused.

3) Environmental Liabilities

1.Pursue the application filed by the Union Government in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in May 2005 for making The Dow Chemical Company, USA pay Rs. 100 Crores as advance for cleaning up the toxic contamination in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory. Enforce the appearance of The Dow Chemical Company, USA in the case by piercing the corporate veil and taking action against its Indian subsidiary, Dow Chemical International Private Limited.

2.Ensure safe transportation and disposal of the thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste in hazardous waste treatment facilities in OECD countries.

3.Join the ongoing litigation in the US Federal Court against Union Carbide and others for environmental clean up, payment of compensation for personal and property damages and costs of health monitoring.

4) Action against The Dow Chemical Company

1. Revoke registration for Dursban and three other pesticides registered by payment of bribes by Dow to Agriculture Ministry officials.

a) Revoke the registration of the pesticides registered by payment of bribes.

b) Initiate prosecution against Dow AgroSciences India Ltd and responsible company officials for abetting the commission of the crime of bribe taking by Agricultural Ministry officials, under Section 12 of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

c) Prosecute Indian officials including members of the Central Insecticide Registration Board who received the bribe totaling 200 thousand dollars.

2. Revoke approval given to Reliance Industries to purchase absconder Union Carbide Corporation’s trademark UNIPOL (PP) technology through Dow Global Technology Inc.

a) Get CBI to submit application before CJM Bhopal in MJC 91/1992 seeking attachment of licensing and service fees paid by Reliance Petroleum Limited to Dow Global Technology Inc. towards UNIPOL technology.

b) Revoke the approval given to Reliance for licensing UNIPOL

3. Stop all work on Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals Ltd-Dow’s joint venture factory in Dahej, Gujarat.

a) Direct FIPB to decline permission to Dow-GACL joint venture, or revoke any such approval if already given.

b) Investigate and take action, including prosecution of GACL-Dow officials for violation of environmental and labour legislations. The plant on which work has begun has no environmental clearance, no Consent to Establish and no permission from the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Hygiene.

The expectation of the suffering people of Bhopal would be to focus on cleaning up and decontaminating the plant site and ensure that systemic shortcomings that brought us to this pass are quickly mitigated. But the tax payers of India, like me, sure hope that this correction is with dough from Dow Chemicals.   

All the Best Prime Minister

    • Preeti
    • June 28th, 2010

    Excellent article!!


    • ramalingam ramaswamy
    • September 17th, 2010

    Around 22,000 dead. More than 1,20,000 injured. Rs 1 lakh for each body. Rs 25,000 for every poisoned lung and damaged heart and blinded eyes. 26 years of long wait. And just 2 years in jail for the men who committed the worst crime against the people of this country. And this mockery of justice after such a long wait. 26 years after 40 tonnes of lethal gas seeped into the lungs of Bhopal, families of some 17,000 men, women and children are still waiting for the so-called compensation. Thousands more are still waiting to be accepted as victims. People of Bhopal are still drinking toxic water poisoned by Union Carbide in December 1984. And the main culprit is living life kingsize in a mansion in New York.

    No country sells its people so cheap.
    No country sells its poor so cheap.
    No country sells its dead so cheap.

    Shame on Indian Judiciary


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