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Friday, June 29, 2012

Union Carbide not liable for Bhopal gas tragedy - says US Court

MNCs are ruling the roost everywhere – there have been threats of them entering retail sector – right now you can see so many MNCs in every sphere – beautiful offices housed in big building; efficient staff, utilization of technology, local benefits from International operations – and what is more, you are trading with an International entity – it is fail proof – strongly backed by a giant Company headquartered elsewhere, folk, it is not simply an Indian Company which will vanish and not dependent on a single person in India – does it not make sense to buy only MNC product ???????

The famed city of  King Bhoja perhaps named Bhojpal after the king and the dam ("pal") constructed by him, slowly fell  to obscurity, and by the early 18th century Bhopal was a small village in the local Gond kingdom. The present capital of Madhya Pradesh is not as famous as many other cities are – in 1969, a factory to produce pesticide Sevin,  using methyl isocyanate (MIC) as an intermediate was started – and in hindsight this has caused untold woes and tribulations to thousands of poor Indian citizens.  .

More than 28 years ago, during the night of December 2–3, 1984, water entered Tank E610 containing 42 tons of MIC. The resulting exothermic reaction increased the temperature inside the tank to over200 °C (392 °F) and raised the pressure. About 30 metric tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) escaped from the tank into the atmosphere in 45 to 60 minutes. The gases were blown by southeasterly winds over Bhopal – and that is the  Bhopal disaster, a gas leak  considered one of the world's worst industrial catastrophes.  Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh  confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.  A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

Union Carbide India Limited [UCIL] was the Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), with Indian Government controlled banks and the Indian public holding a 49.1 percent stake. In 1994, the Supreme Court of India allowed UCC to sell its 50.9 percent share. Union Carbide sold UCIL, the Bhopal plant operator, to Eveready Industries India Limited in 1994. The Bhopal plant was later sold to McLeod Russel (India) Ltd. Dow Chemical Company purchased UCC in 2001.

On the night of tragedy, it was chaotic - Medical staff were unprepared for the thousands of casualties; Doctors and hospitals were not informed of proper treatment methods for MIC gas inhalation. They were told to simply give cough medicine and eye drops to their patients; there was mass evacuation on that night and subsequently when   the tanks 611 and 619 were emptied of the remaining MIC.  Sadly decades after the tragedy, victims have not been paid just compensation after knocking the doors of many Courts.  

Now comes another blow as an  American court has dismissed all claims by Indian plaintiffs against Union Carbide ruling that neither Union Carbide or the then chairman Warren Anderson was responsible for any environmental fallout which was a result of a gas leak in Bhopal in December 1984 that killed thousands of people.  The court ruled that Union Carbide is not liable for any claims made by plaintiffs Janki Bai Sahu and others. The court also dismissed all claims made against Anderson.

US District Judge John Keena said Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was not responsible for causing soil and water pollution in Bhopal as it was Union Carbide India Ltd that owned the plant and not the parent company UCC. He also added that since Union Carbide sold its stake in the India unit, it's not liable for the clean-up.

In sum and substance, the Judgment perhaps underlines that there was no evidence that the parent body’s approval for the actions of the Indian arm could be established.  Crudely akin to telling that if somebody slaps, it is his hand and not he mind or the person who is responsible for that action.   The Judge is quoted as stating  that "it is beyond dispute that Union Carbide India" -- and not the U.S.-based parent -- "generated and disposed of the waste which allegedly polluted plaintiffs' drinking water." The court added that since Union Carbide sold its stake in the India unit, it's not liable for the clean-up.

The activists who had taken the tragedy to US Court have expressed disappointment at the dismissal of the case, but added that they are determined to appeal.  Way back in 1989 Indian Supreme Court asked Union Carbide to pay $470 million in damages to the victims. Many organizations have been fighting since for a higher just compensation.  There has also been the issue of site clean-up, as the State is unsure of how to get rid of the toxic waste. Those who have been fighting for feel that the present owner - Dow Chemical has failed to fulfill its moral obligations of paying adequate compensation and cleaning up the site of the disaster.  Dow Chemicals claims that it bought Union Carbide 16 years after the tragedy -- and so it can't be held liable.

In 2004, activists working on behalf of residents who lived near the factory filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. seeking damages from Union Carbide, now a part of Dow Chemicals Co., to finance the removal of pollutants from the site, pay compensation to residents whose water source was contaminated by toxic waste and set up a facility to monitor the health of local residents. The present utterance is clearly a setback to the victims who have undergone harrowing times, many have died since fighting the losing battle with a giant MNC backed by lawyers exploiting all possible loopholes.

The Bano v Union Carbide in district court of Manhattan, New York demanding compensation  has faced more reverses than any movement towards compensation.  In 2003 it was dismissed on the grounds of statute of limitation.  Subsequently more pitched in for action against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson and that they should be held accountable on the grounds that they were direct participants and joint tortfeasors in the activities that resulted in the pollution and that that they worked in concert with Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) to cause, exacerbate, or conceal the pollution.  Now the Court has ruled in favour of the defendants.  Now owned by Dow Chemical Company, Union Carbide denies allegations against it on its website dedicated to the tragedy. The corporation claims that the incident was the result of sabotage, stating that safety systems were in place and operative. It also stresses that it did all it could to alleviate human suffering following the disaster.

UCC Chairman, CEO Warren Anderson was arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh Police in Bhopal on December 7, 1984. The arrest, which took place at the airport, ensured Anderson would meet no harm by the Bhopal community. Anderson was taken to UCC's house after which he was released six hours later on $2,100 bail and flown out on a government plane. In 1987, the Indian government summoned Anderson, eight other executives and two company affiliates with homicide charges to appear in Indian court. Union Carbide balked, saying the company is not under Indian jurisdiction.  Thus a man   charged with manslaughter and declared  fugitive from justice by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal did not even try to make an appearance. 

So Justice for victims keeps eluding and perhaps has almost vanished.   Interestingly, a WikiLeak relase in Feb 2012  revealed that Dow Chemicals had engaged an agency to spy on the public and personal lives of activists involved in the Bhopal disaster, including the Yes Men. Stratfor released a statement condemning the revelation by Wikileaks while neither confirming nor denying the accuracy of the reports, and would only state that it had acted within the bounds of the law; Dow Chemicals would not comment on the matter.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.


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