Home | Friday 11th June 2010 | Issue 726
26 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy (see SchNEWS 702), which killed 3,000 immediately and over 35,000 in its aftermath, seven officials of Union Carbide India Ltd, including the former chairman, were convicted and sentenced last week to a maximum of two years imprisonment. However, all of them were released on bail the same day, whilst those most guilty continue to evade justice - Union Carbide Corporation, former group chairman Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Eastern. After toxic chemicals stored at its pesticide factory in Bhopal were contaminated, deadly gases escaped, which led to half a million suffering serious health problems in following years.
Condemning the lenient sentencing, Bhopal survivors vow to fight the case in higher courts. “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.” Derisory fines of Rs.101,750 (about £1500) were handed out to the 7 UCIL officials, with Union Carbide India Ltd (now Eveready Industries India Ltd) being fined Rs.5,000,000 (£7300).
Scores of gas victims greeted the verdicts with protests, slogan-shouting and die-ins. NGOs and activists dismissed the $470 million paid out by Union Carbide 20 years ago, as unable to cover up the true cost of the devastation.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation was condemned for its complicity in protecting the foreign corporate friends of the ruling elite. “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 lost six people in her family due to the disaster.
In 1996, a judge diluted the charges against the Indians accused, resulting in the two rather than ten year sentences, with the CBI failing to act against this dubious ruling. The CBI have likewise failed to act in the six years since a Bhopali magistrate served notice on Dow Chemicals USA to produce its Union Carbide subsidiary in court.
An ex-CBI boss has come clean about its protection of corporate murderer Anderson. Former Joint Director B. R. Lall, who was the senior officer in charge of the Bhopal investigation in the mid 90s, went on Indian TV to reveal that the CBI, which is run out of an obscure department headed by the Prime Minister, received a written communication from the Ministry of External Affairs instructing it not to proceed with the extradition of Warren Anderson. “CBI investigation was influenced and commanded by some officials, as a result the justice in the Bhopal Gas leakage case got delayed, hence, denied.”
With hundreds of thousands still suffering from what ranks alongside Chernobyl as the world’s worst industrial accident, of which the culpable corporation has never been made to adequately compensate - or even clear the accident site up - the fight for justice in Bhopal continues.
* See www.bhopal.net, www.studentsforbhopal.org