Worst Industrial Catastrophe – Union Carbide / Dow Chemicals and Bhopal Victims of India

June 12, 2010

By Padmini Arhant

On June 7, 2010, the verdict on the worst industrial gas leak in 1984, Bhopal, India was delivered by the state’s local court.

According to the several reports:

The ruling convicted the seven officials in senior management along with the employees of the former Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), the then subsidiary of the Union Carbide, USA with CEO Warren Anderson at that time.

Conviction included two years jail sentence and Rupees 100,000($2,100, €1,800) in fine.

Understandably, the judgment aroused sentiments among the victims’ devastated families and the survivors.

The NGO’s and other organizations representing the victims welcomed the much awaited process brought to national and international attention after pursuing the legal course for more than twenty five years.

However, they expressed huge disappointment in the limited sentencing and the exemption to the then Parent Company, Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson.

India’s request for the CEO’s extradition to face trial was rejected in June 2004 by the United States.

Mr. Warren Anderson was the CEO of Union Carbide U.S.A during the industrial disaster in 1984 and served the corporation until 1986.

Subsequently, Union Carbide in their statement delineated themselves from the gross industrial negligence that claimed scores of lives and continue to affect more, the living and the yet to be born evidenced in the birth defects as well as other illnesses diagnosed thus far.

Union Carbide U.S.A transferred all liabilities pertaining to Bhopal incident over to its then fully owned subsidiary Union Carbide India Limited, while accepting the revenues and profits from the offshore operation. Effectively reflected in the multinational corporation CEO’s income, stock options and bonuses.

Moreover, the facts supporting the systemic operational facility discrimination between the U.S site and the Bhopal plant was disregarded in the entire proceedings.

Source: Wikipedia.org titled Warren Anderson (Chairman)

“Greenpeace asserts that as the Union Carbide CEO, Anderson knew about a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which identified 30 major hazards and that they were not fixed in Bhopal but were fixed at the company’s identical plant in the US.

Union Carbide asserts that the Bhopal plant addressed all of the identified issues well before the December 1984 gas leak and that none of them had anything to do with the disaster.

Greenpeace claims that neglecting these hazards in Bhopal caused the explosion.

Others, such as the former police chief Swaraj Puri, who was injured in the Bhopal disaster, asserts that Mr. Anderson must have known about the danger of the plant because an employee had died there a year before the disaster.”

Statistics on the human tragedy from this major industrial catastrophe are as follows:

Source: Indian Supreme Court, Madhya Pradesh government, Indian Council of Medical Research

Initial deaths – more than 3,000 – official toll

Unofficial initial toll: 7,000-8,000

Total deaths to date: over 15,000

Number affected: Nearly 600,000

Compensation: Union Carbide pays $470m in 1989

Unfortunately, for the survivors and the victims’ families, the issue is not restricted to the selective indictment or the mild sentencing on a monumental management failure;

It’s rather an uphill battle to investigate the matter because of the high profile corporate and political power implicated in the horrific crime, especially with more information presented through visual content in the Indian media that confirms,

The “most wanted” CEO, Warren Anderson escorted in an Indian state government vehicle for safe departure from the Indian shores upon being released on bail after his arrest in December 7, 1984.

Mr. Anderson noted as the “chief defendant” in the trial from the beginning was excluded in the recent hearing outcome.

Per Wikipedia.org:

Later, “the arrest warrant issued on July 31, 2009 by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Prakash Mohan Tiwari, Bhopal, India rendered ineffective due to the U.S. declining the extradition treaty, citing a lack of evidence.”

It bears resemblance to the 9/11 tragedy when the terror mastermind, Osama Bin Laden’s family were reportedly allowed secure passage from the United States in 2001.

The dangers of politics and prejudice playing dominant role in the judicial system, often deprives the innocent from obtaining justice even in the democratic society.

Such obstruction of justice through political influence and camouflage from the top bottom makes a mockery of the judicial system in a democracy.

It’s increasingly prevalent in the trials that could potentially expose the authorities in bad light.

No political system is an exception to the concept.

Besides, the news corps media being the primary voice for democracy have a journalistic responsibility to decipher the intricacies behind the funds exchange between Union Carbide USA and the Indian government that received the disclosed $470 million compensation with or without any stipulation.

Although, the monetary compensation is not proportionate to the suffering and damages sustained by the victims,

It’s still important to ascertain the amount actually received (if any) by the affected individuals in the prolonged dispute and address the status quo adequately.

Setting the political priorities aside, the dire situation beckons the Indian and the U.S. entities to view the Bhopal victims’ plight as a humanitarian calamity and exemplify requiring transnational corporations to adhere to universal environmental and ethical standards in the globalization era.

Justice denied to the innocent is Justice betrayed. For actions and decisions by all are judged accordingly.

Bhopal victims deserve better considering the long ordeal endured by them.

Providing medical assistance, toxin free living conditions with continuous monitoring to eliminate the persisting health hazards are the minimal needs for survival.

Enforcing strict industrial safety codes and regulations would protect workers from serious occupational injuries.

In addition, imposing liability on the corporations regardless of statehood for human and environmental harm is necessary to prevent negligence and evading financial obligation.

Whether it is Bhopal, India or the Gulf Coast in the United States, the communities pay the price in the deadly chemical release and oil gusher.

Perhaps, the bilateral solution to the problem rests with the Indian and U.S authorities to do right by shifting the burden of proof from the victims to those connected to the horrendous casualty in the Bhopal gas explosion.

Thank you.

Padmini Arhant


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