India: Bhopal court slaps Union Carbide’s Indian culprits on wrist, but US accused remain scot free Print E-mail

 

But, “government [must] learn the right lessons from Bhopal tragedy and its aftermath in safeguarding the interests of common people while pushing through the Nuclear Liability Bill which is now before parliament.
The Bhopal court’s verdict must not deter those pursuing justice for the victims. Corporations must be held accountable for their actions. Ongoing efforts by the government to smooth Union Carbide’s successor, Dow Chemicals’ entry into India must be blocked“

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 Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Travesty of justice

''The two govts have colluded to save the guilty.''

The guilty verdict handed out to the eight accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case is hardly likely to give the victims a sense of justice or closure. The court has found the then chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd Kesub Mahindra and seven others guilty of causing death by negligence. It is a shameful indictment of our lethargic judiciary that it took 26 long years for the court to confirm what the world always knew. More importantly, this verdict is a travesty of justice.

The name of Warren Anderson, the chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, does not find mention in the verdict. At the time of the incident, Anderson was named as an accused. But he did not stand trial and was declared an ‘absconder’ by the court. The guilty verdict has come in connection with the case involving Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal which spewed tonnes of the toxic methyl isocyanate into the air on December 3, 1984. It was estimated that around 10,000 people were killed within the first three days of the disaster.

Several times that number died in the years that followed as the deadly impact of the gas was passed down from one generation to another. Those at the helm of Union Carbide should have been tried for culpable homicide amounting to murder but the supreme court diluted this charge to criminal negligence. Clearly the charge does not reflect the enormity of the crime committed. The maximum sentence the guilty will therefore get is two years in prison; just a rap on the knuckles. As for Anderson, he has escaped even this absurdly light punishment.

If justice has eluded the victims, this is because the governments of the US and India have colluded to protect the guilty, including Anderson, whose whereabouts are well-known. Successive governments have been eager to please US business corporations in order to attract more investment rather than pursue justice and secure better relief settlements for the victims. It is the duty of civil society and the Opposition to warn the government to learn the right lessons from Bhopal tragedy and its aftermath in safeguarding the interests of common people while pushing through the Nuclear Liability Bill which is now before parliament.

The Bhopal court’s verdict must not deter those pursuing justice for the victims. Corporations must be held accountable for their actions. Ongoing efforts by the government to smooth UCC’s successor, Dow Chemicals’ entry into India must be blocked.
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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Too little, too late: Environmentalists

New Delhi, June 7, Agencies:

''Too little too late'' and a ''travesty/mockery of justice'' is how environmentalists described the verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy case announced on Monday. The gas leak from the Union Carbide plant in 1984 had left 25,000 people dead.

“It is too little too late and people responsible for the death of over 25,000 people are getting away scot-free with just two years of punishment and a fine of Rs 5 lakh on the company. This is nothing but travesty of justice,” said Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) associate director Chandra Bhushan.

The CSE, in a study done last December, had found that for more than 25 years, the Union Carbide (UCIL) factory has been contaminating the land and water of Bhopal. The study found that groundwater and soil in areas even three km away from the factory contains almost 40 times more pesticides than Indian standards. The soil and water also contain toxic metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and chromium.

“The accident has caused huge amount of contamination of water and land in the city and had serious impacts on health of people. Even after 25 years people are suffering from serious health impacts including damage to the brain and nervous system, chromosomal abnormalities, damaging liver and blood cells, Chandra Bhushan said.

“This has been reduced to a street crime. It is a complete failure of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which seems to be working under some corporate pressure. It is a ridiculous order and a mockery of the judicial process,” said Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance.

Tonnes of methyl-iso-cyanate (MIC) spewed out of the now shut pesticide plant that was located in a congested part of the city.

A study by the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) in Bhopal has found that the toxic gas altered the immune system of those who were still in their mothers’ wombs when the disaster struck.

“Our study shows, for the first time, that in-utero MIC exposure during the Bhopal gas tragedy has caused a persistent immune system hyper-responsiveness in affected individuals,” said Pradyumna Kumar Mishra, who led the study.


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 Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Justice not done for Bhopal yet

By DC Correspondent

Over a quarter-century after the deadly methyl isocyanate gas seeped into the air of Madhya Pradesh’s capital on a cold December morning, with horrific consequences and eventually leading to over 20,000 deaths, a local court on Monday gave its verdict against seven accused in the Bhopal gas disaster ­ considered the worst industrial accident in the world’s history.

But it can be no one’s case that justice has been delivered. For an incident as shocking as this, the accused ­ among whom are the then top executives of Union Carbide India Ltd ­ have been awarded a jail sentence of two years, and then immediately granted bail.

The reason why justice has eluded the victims is the less than supportive attitude of successive governments in Madhya Pradesh and the Centre. It is evident that the sections under which the accused were charged were not stringent enough.

The company officials were accused of nothing more than negligence. In any other democracy, an accident with such a high death toll would have attracted tougher provisions of the law. Two years or something like it are given by courts for crimes like petty thieving.

A disturbing aspect of the legal side of the story is how Walter Anderson, who in 1984 was Union Carbide’s worldwide chief, has been permitted to get away scot-free. He refused to answer an Indian court’s summons and has been living in hiding.

Successive Indian governments have not seen it fit to take up the subject of extradition of this man, who is generally believed to be behind the setting up of procedures at the Bhopal plant to lower the stringency of safety mechanisms in order to cut costs. A tragedy of the magnitude that occurred on the night of December 2-3 may just have been avoided if full safety standards were in place ­ as might have been the case with an industrial plant in the United States that dealt with noxious chemicals.

The scale of human suffering in the wake of the tragedy ­ 20,000 dead and an incalculably high number suffering from the gas leak’s effects ­ appears quite like that of a chemical weapons strike by a terrorist outfit. If such is the case, New Delhi should honour the dead and the suffering even at this late stage and press Washington to use all available laws to send Mr Anderson to face trial in India.

The government has repeatedly faltered in taking up cudgels on behalf of the gas victims and the people of Bhopal. It has aborted and short-circuited legal proceedings against the seven accused within the country. In the US, it chose not to inspect Union Carbide Corporation’s premises even after permission was granted by the American authorities to do so.

Such a cavalier attitude toward human life detracts from the dignity of democratic governance. It is no surprise that many have accused the government of not moving against company officials in India and the US fearing this might discourage multinational corporations from investing in India. Such fears are puerile, and an affront to this country’s sovereignty.

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 Tuesday, 8 June 2010

'Judgment a mockery of justice’

Bhopal, June 7, Agencies:

Victims and activists of the Bhopal gas tragedy were on Monday furious that the eight officials of the Union Carbide had been convicted only for criminal negligence, despite the enormity of the tragedy.

Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, an NGO representing the survivors and an activist who has been involved with the gas victims since the 1984 disaster, accused the Indian authorities of lacking the political will to go after Warren Anderson.

“The message is going out that peoples’ lives don’t matter, what matters is foreign direct investment (FDI). You can kill people, maim them for life and get away almost scot free,” he said.

“We have lost our kith and kin... our land, water and air remain polluted. Our kids have multiple health disorders. But the accused will manage to get away with a mere two years in jail. Do you call this justice?,” said an angry survivor of the tragedy.

“The prime minister and the CBI should be ashamed of themselves... The government and the Union Carbide are hand in glove in this disaster. This is absolute injustice,” she fumed.

D Rukmani, who continues to shuttle from one hospital to the other for her 52-year-old husband’s treatment, lamented that the compensation they got was also too little.

“We are suffering from the after-effects of the leak. Whatever little we earn is spent on treatment... we got two instalments of Rs 2,500... it was nothing,” she said.

‘Complete injustice’
Rashida Bi of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karamchari Sangh said: “This is complete injustice done to the 25,000 dead. It is a shameful verdict. We are extremely disappointed.” She alleged that the fundamental rights of the families of those who have suffered because of Union Carbide were violated by keeping them away from the court room.

“We will definitely appeal to the higher courts. If the prime minister is concerned about our welfare, he should take action,” said Rashida Bi, a survivor and an activist. “Warren Anderson should be brought to India and imprisoned for at least 20 years,” she added.

Sayed M Irfan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, said: “We were eager to know the verdict. But as usual our expectations were futile. We have become like footballs... being kicked from Bhopal to Delhi and Delhi to Bhopal.”
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 London ~ Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Thousands dead, their land poisoned. The sentence – just two years

Court ruling over the tragedy at Union Carbide's Bhopal plant has enraged campaigners. Andrew Buncombe reports

Survivors of the gas tragedy wait for the court's decision in Bhopal, central India, yesterday, after more than 25 years of campaigning (EPA)

More than a quarter of a century after tens of thousands of people were killed in one of the world's most notorious industrial accidents, activists in Bhopal reacted angrily when a court handed down jail terms of just two years to former officials who oversaw the pesticide plant that leaked clouds of poisonous gas.

Around 8,000 people died within hours of 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas being accidentally pumped into the air in the central Indian city in 1984. Perhaps double that perished in the subsequent months and years from a variety of diseases caused by the leak. Children there continue to be born with an unusually high incidence of abnormalities.

Yesterday, a court in Bhopal convicted seven former employees of an Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide, the US-based company that built and operated the pesticide plant. The officials, all of them Indian, were found guilty of death by negligence and sentenced to two years in jail but were released on bail, pending an appeal.

They were the first criminal convictions brought in association with the tragedy. Having fought for more than 25 years, survivors and activists said the sentences were insufficient. They condemned an earlier court decision to reduce the charges from "culpable homicide" and criticised the Indian government for not doing more to hold senior US officials to account.

"It's terrible," said Rachna Dhingra, of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. "This is what comes after 25,000 deaths. This is an open invitation to multinational corporations to come and pollute and then leave without [responsibility]."

Tim Edwards of the UK-based Bhopal Medical Appeal (BPA), which raises money to help survivors, added: "This sets a very bad precedent. Today's decision is a disaster. It's the equivalent of a bad traffic rap."

It was five past midnight on 3 December 1984 when toxic chemicals poured into the air after water entered a holding tank and triggered a violent reaction. While the precise details of what went wrong are still disputed, there is convincing evidence that lack of maintenance and corrosion were factors. The plant had no adequate plan for dealing with such a disaster.

Within minutes, the gas engulfed the impoverished shanty communities next to the plant. Thousands of people died in their sleep, while at hospitals and clinics corpses piled up. Mass burials and cremations were organised.

The struggle for justice over the incident, the effects of which are still being suffered by the people of Bhopal in the form of contaminated water, birth defects and widespread respiratory problems, has been twisting and arduous, even by the slow standards of India's legal system.

In 1989, the federal government brokered a deal whereby Union Carbide paid $470m (£313m) in a "full and final" settlement that saw victims receive around $550 each. In 1998, the leased site of the plant in the heart of the city – which still contains hundreds of tons of rusting, contaminated debris and spilled chemicals – was returned to the Indian authorities.

In 2001, Union Carbide was taken over by the Dow Chemical Company. Belated efforts to extradite Warren Anderson, the chief executive of Union Carbide, and other US officials, failed.

Campaigners say successive Indian governments have declined to act more firmly against the US company because they do not want to frighten off potential overseas investors. In 2006, Dow wrote to India's ambassador in Washington seeking an assurance that the company would not be legally pursued.

Dow, which still has interests in India worth $500m, has always denied legal responsibility for what happened at Bhopal. A spokesman, Scott Wheeler, repeated the company's opinion that it never owned or operated the plant.

A spokesman for Union Carbide, Tomm Sprick, claimed that officials from its Indian subsidiary, in which it held a 51 per cent stake, were responsible for operating the plant. "All the appropriate people from Union Carbide India – officers and those who actually ran the plant on a daily basis – have appeared to face charges."

Last night, Amnesty International called on the Indian government to pursue legal action against Union Carbide officials in the US.
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 Tuesday, 8 June 2010

US hopes verdict won't inhibit relations with India

From IANS

The US on Tuesday hoped the Bhopal gas tragedy case will not "inhibit" its expanding ties with India and that the court verdict will bring "closure" to the families of the victims and rejected opening of new inquiries.

The Obama Administration also hoped the Bhopal court verdict in the world's worst industrial disaster will not affect the Indian civil nuclear liability bill.

The nuclear bill, which is facing opposition in India, is currently before Parliament.

The American reactions by two senior officials came amid outrage by civil rights activists over the US parent company Union Carbide escaping criminal liability and its chairman Warren Anderson being allowed to go scot free in connection with the 1984 gas disaster in which over 15,000 people died.

The officials were reacting to Monday's verdict convicting seven Indian employees including ex-Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra and sentencing them to two years in prison each, nearly 26 years after the tragedy. "With respect to Bhopal, obviously that was one of the greatest industrial tragedies and industrial accidents in human history.

And let me just say that we hope that this verdict today helps to bring some closure to the victims and their families," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Mr Robert Blake, told a news conference here.
Mr Blake hoped the verdict will not lead to opening of new inquiries into the role of Union Carbide in the disaster.

"But I don't expect this verdict to reopen any new, you know, inquiries or anything like that. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure," Mr Blake told foreign reporters in response to a question.
Responding to a specific question on the Bhopal gas tragedy and the court's decisions, Blake said this is an internal matter of India. To a similar question at another news briefing, the State Department spokesman, Mr P.J. Crowley said: "This tragedy happened 26 years ago, and it was a terrible tragedy, one of the worst industrial accidents in human history, and we certainly hope that the verdict brings some closure to the families of the victims of this tragedy."

Crowley hoped that this particular case "does not inhibit - or the continuing expansion of economic, cultural, and political ties between the two countries."

"We fully expect that this will not be the case," he said. "The Indian Parliament will have to make judgement on the nuclear liabilities bill, but this criminal case should have no relation to the liability legislation currently before Parliament," Crowley said.

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 Wednesday June 9 2010
Editorial:

Pitiful justice

When eight out of 12 original accused in the world's worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal gas leak of December 3-4, 1984, are brought to justice nearly 26 years later, it is difficult to respond to the verdict with anything other than dismay. Key protagonists Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Corporation (UCC, USA) have literally got away with mass murder. The eight Indians held guilty, among them Keshub Mahindra, chairman of UCC's Indian subsidiary, have been sentenced to two years' imprisonment by the trial court. Mr. Anderson was Accused No. 1 in the 1987 charge sheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation; as Chief Executive Officer of the parent UCC, he was directly responsible for the deaths and devastation that came in the wake of the leak of toxic methyl isocyanate gas from Carbide's Bhopal plant. Mr. Anderson, who had approved and ratified the standards in design, safety, and operations of the plant, was placed under house arrest immediately after the calamity but he won his release on a promise to return to India and stand trial. Of course, he never intended to return, and successive Indian governments merely went through the motions of trying to secure his extradition. In 1992, the district court in Bhopal declared Mr. Anderson a fugitive from the law. In 1993, the case was bifurcated and the eight Indian accused were tried separately.

The families of the gas victims are bound to see the Bhopal verdict as a cruel joke on their patience and suffering. The minimal punishment handed down to the eight Indians is less a reflection on the Bhopal judge than a consequence of a 1996 Supreme Court order diluting the charges ­ from culpable homicide to causing death by negligence, which carries a maximum imprisonment of two years. The unconscionably delayed verdict also raises larger liability questions for industrial disasters, especially in the context of the Civil Liability Nuclear Damages Bill. The Bhopal toll and consequences, short- and long-term, were horrific beyond precedent. The 4,000 immediate deaths and the tens of thousands disabled were the First Act of a heart-rending saga that continues to take its toll to this day. Thousands more have died from long-term exposure, not to mention children born with congenital defects and those falling sick from drinking water contaminated by the uncleared waste lying around the Carbide factory grounds. What the government has done for the generations of poor victims will go down in the annals of infamy. It sued Carbide for $3 billion but settled for 15 per cent of the amount, as a consequence of which survivors received an average compensation of less than Rs.15,000. Those born with disabilities and others suffering the long-term consequences have been left to fend for themselves.
It is truly a case of too little, too late.
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 London ~ Tuesday June 8 2010

Bhopal verdict: a most convenient injustice

A tiny penalty for each life lost underlines the absence of balance between economic and political power in the Bhopal trial

By Tim Edwards

The Union Carbide plant in Bhopal (Harish Tyagi/EPA)

Nestled among the 1,500 articles universally decrying the mockery of justice served up in a Bhopal court yesterday were one or two curiosities. Notably, Robert Blake, regional assistant secretary of the corporate-crime-busting Obama administration, expressed the hope that "this verdict helps to bring some closure to the victims and their families".

For who indeed could fail to gain reconciliation from a judgment that gavelled a punitive sanction of pennies for each life taken by the worst corporate massacre in history?

Outside the court, gas survivor Hamida Bi stood weeping. "Nobody knows how we suffered experiencing death so closely everyday … the rich and influential have wronged us. We lost our lives and they can't spend a day in jail?"

Not one. Stringent appeal of the two-year sentences will be conducted on bail.

There's little doubt the seven managers and officials of Union Carbide India (UCIL) sentenced understood the technology imported by Union Carbide Corporation to be exceptionally, screamingly hazardous. Yet operatives were put in key positions of responsibility, safety devices were put out-of-commission and workers who tried to prevent Armageddon were unheard.

Increasing business losses at the time were, naturally, of most concern to UCIL's main shareholder, then US Fortune 500 company Carbide, which ensured the constant flow of dividends and royalties from across its multinational empire by " securing and maintaining effective control" of its subsidiaries. The board of UCIL thus contained four directors of Union Carbide Eastern (UCE) – a regional management subsidiary owned by Union Carbide – and James Rehfield, a Carbide executive.

Under oath, Rehfield vigorously denied that Carbide sought to levy control over its overseas operations. When asked who, then, controlled an "affiliate", Rehfield replied: "The board of that company." Who is the board elected by? "The equity participants." And who's the majority equity participant in UCIL? "Carbide's 50.9%." This 0.9 of 1% over 50 was so vital to Union Carbide's control strategy that an executive committee – including the fugitive prime accused Warren Anderson – ratified a plan to install unproven technology in the Bhopal plant.

The logic was simple. Carbide was "not prepared to accept any situation" that would reduce its equity below 51%. An "under-investment" totalling $8m, which made its main savings on the potentially lethal methyl-isocyanate-Sevin process, enabled Carbide to keep its majority stake in UCIL. Carbide found the proposed business risk "acceptable".

The cuts were savage. Key safety device the Vent Gas Scrubber wasn't working the night Tank 610 spewed 28 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas into the lungs of Bhopal's sleeping half million: it would have made no difference if it had been. The gas poured through it at 200 times the pressure it was designed to handle – a water pistol for an inferno.

In the 23 years since the Bhopal criminal trial began, prime accused Carbide, UCE and Warren Anderson have resisted numerous summonses and escaped both bailable and non-bailable arrest warrants. Interpol has failed to procure them. No US administration has offered them up.

In 1991, current prime minister Manmohan Singh began liberalising the Indian economy, stimulating bilateral trade with the US. By 1992, judicial orders made Carbide and Anderson "fugitives from justice" and demanded their extradition. Nothing happened.

In 2003, after a series of embarrassing rebukes, pusillanimous India finally summoned the pluck to ask the US to extradite Anderson. According to US state department communications the request sent lobbyists into a frenzy. "A virtual who's who of high-powered law firms have represented Union Carbide and Anderson, the US chamber of commerce, and who knows who else with respect to the Bhopal case."

Former Carbide director Joseph Goeghan got to the point. "Extradition in (a) case like this would place in jeopardy any officer of an American corporation with significant interests in foreign enterprises anywhere in the world … The chilling effect on American investment abroad cannot be overstated."

The extradition request was denied and has not been resent.

In 2001, $50bn Dow Chemical became full owner of Carbide. At the urging of survivor groups, the Bhopal court issued summons to Dow to account for its missing subsidiary. In five years, the judicially ordered summons has yet to reach Dow's offices in Michigan.

The culpable homicide case against Union Carbide continues but, as a breezy Robert Blake added yesterday, "I don't expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries or anything like that." Given the asymmetries of economic and political power so clearly in play, the verdict against UCIL really begins to seem a most convenient injustice.
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 London ~ Tuesday 8 June 2010, page 28

Bhopal's long injustice

Joy at today's verdict was shortlived. The true culprits continue to avoid their day in court

By Indra Sinha
The people most responsible for the disaster in Bhopal were not in the courtroom today when the verdict against eight Indian employees of Union Carbide India Limited was announced. Union Carbide Corporation (US), its former chairman Warren Anderson, and Union Carbide Eastern have been refusing since 1992 to obey the summons of the Bhopal court and answer charges of culpable homicide. The evidence against them remains unheard. Instead the prosecution focused on the small fry, the Indian managers, while the case that they were ultimately carrying out orders that originated in the US has not been tried.

This morning roads within a mile of the court were barricaded, public gatherings were banned, and police with batons were out in force. People who had waited 26 years for justice gathered in the streets to await the verdict pronounced on the Indian accused. Reports that all the defendants had been found guilty produced short-lived joy, but news of the sentences left the crowds shocked, disbelieving, disgusted, angry.

The company fined $11,000 for causing the deaths of more than 20,000 people? That's 55 cents a death. What of the quarter of a century of suffering endured by more than 100,000 sick survivors? Eleven cents apiece. As criminal damages go, never has a lower price been set on human life and health.

As for the seven accused (one had died during the 18-year trial), they were fined paltry amounts and sentenced to two years, but of course they are already all out on bail. "It's insulting!" one Bhopali woman shouted. "They deserved death," cried another. But no one should have been surprised at the lenience of the sentencing. All of this could have been foreseen.

I have spent the last month restructuring the www.bhopal.net website, going through a quarter of a century of press cuttings, documents, photographs and posts by successive website editors. What we can begin to piece together is the forming of a deal. Both the American administration and its allies in India were desperate that US executives should not be pursued. A 2003 email from a US ministry of justice official reveals that "extensive discussions with India in the past about pursuing a criminal homicide case against UCC executives would not be helpful". I do not have space in this piece to list the rash decisions, mad cost-cutting and cutbacks on safety and maintenance ordered from the US that can be traced to the accident, but details and source documents are on the site.

The US administration and its allies in India were desperate that American executives should not face criminal charges. But could the Indian accused be persuaded to take the rap? The first thing would be to dilute charges against them so they would not risk the 10 years associated with the original charge of "culpable homicide". Justice Ahmadi of the supreme court obligingly reduced the charges to "a rash and negligent act" with a level of culpability like that of a careless driver in a road traffic accident.

Next, in November 1996, the CBI – India's equivalent of the FBI – told the Bhopal court that in the light of the decision to reduce the charges against the Indian accused, it was looking afresh at the question of extraditing Anderson, who by this time had been "an absconder from justice" for four years. The CBI is run out of an obscure department headed by the Indian prime minister. It thought about Anderson's extradition for six years, then entered a plea in the Bhopal court to dilute the criminal charges against Anderson, the American parent UCC, and Union Carbide Eastern to bring them in line with the reduced charges faced by the Indian accused. Had this succeeded, there would have been no question of extraditing anyone, because "a rash and negligent act" isn't an extraditable offence.

There was never going to be justice in this case. The long trial has been a farce, its outcome decided in the US 25 years ago.

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 London ~ Tuesday 8 June 2010
Editorial

Bhopal disaster: Unfinished business

What happened in Bhopal is not history and separate actions are still pending, the campaign must go on

What is going on in the Gulf of Mexico today is an example of Newton's third law of motion: for every action by BP there is an equal and opposite reaction by the federal government in Washington. The result is that BP is, rightly, being held to account for cleaning up the biggest oil pollution in US history. But just imagine if the blowout on the drilling rig had caused not 11 but up to 25,000 US deaths; that the compensation Washington finally accepted fell far short of that required even to cover the medical bills of the survivors; that 26 years on , BP had still to clean up the site of the accident which was poisoning the local water supply; and that Britain refused to extradite to a US court the main BP executives responsible.

Unthinkable? Well, that is how the US multinational Union Carbide Corporation, now owned by Dow Chemical, has behaved since it created the world's worst industrial disaster at Bhopal in central India. The difference between BP and Union Carbide is not just a matter of the location of the disaster, although it is plainly that too. It is also down to the fact that successive national and state governments in India have rolled over time and time again to the realpolitik of dealing with Dow Chemical's other investments in India. But that does not make the facts of this tragedy any easier to accept. Nor does it make the sentences handed out yesterday to seven Indian operational managers anything like the last word.

Dow Chemical continues to claim that an agreement with the Indian government under which they paid $470m in compensation resolves all outstanding legal issues. Union Carbide continues to deny responsibility for a plant "designed, owned, operated and managed" by its subsidiary Union Carbide India Ltd. Union Carbide's former chairman Warren Anderson refuses to return to India to face the charges against him. And the people of Bhopal continue to suffer – from respiratory and kidney problems, cancer, disfigurement, and stunted growth.

Much of the anger of groups representing the victims yesterday was directed at the Indian authorities, particularly the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which they accused of criminal negligence in the way it handled what became its longest running case. Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, one of the three organisations assisting the prosecution, said the CBI had failed to produce evidence of how operational safety at the plant was deliberately undermined in the runup to the disaster. What happened in Bhopal is not history and separate actions are still pending. Until all of those involved face justice in an Indian court, the campaign must go on.

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 Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Fateful moments of the tragedy



Bhopal: In the apocalyptic moments on the wintry night of December 2-3, 1984, people simply started dying in the most hideous ways after a toxic gas leak.

Some vomited uncontrollably, went into convulsions and fell dead.

Others choked to death, drowning in their own body fluids after the Union Carbide's pesticide factory, whose safety systems were reportedly not functioning, exploded filling the streets of Bhopal with toxic clouds of methyl isocyanate gas (MIC).

During the intervening night of December 2, a large amount of water entered ‘Tank 610,' which contained 42 tonnes of MIC, much more than the safety rules permitted. A runaway reaction started, which was accelerated by contaminants, high temperatures and other factors. The reaction generated a major increase in the temperature inside the tank to over 200 degree Celsius. This forced the emergency venting of pressure from the tank, releasing a large volume of toxic gases.

The reaction was speeded up by the presence of iron from corroding pipelines. It is known that workers cleaned the pipelines with water but they were not told by the supervisor to add a slip-blind water isolation plate. Because of this, and of the bad maintenance, the workers consider it possible for water to have accidentally entered the tank.

Union Carbide first maintained that a “disgruntled worker” deliberately connected a hose to a pressure gauge. Its investigation team found no evidence of this suggested.

The timeline of the fateful intervening night of December 2­3 as per available information:

The scene inside

9 p.m.: Water cleaning of pipes starts.

10 p.m.: Water enters Tank 610, reaction starts.

10.30 p.m.: Gases are emitted from the vent gas scrubber tower.

12.30 a.m.: The large siren sounds and is turned off.

12:50 a.m.: The siren is heard within the plant area. The workers escape.

The scene outside

10.30 p.m.: First sensations due to the gases are felt – suffocation, cough, burning eyes and vomiting.

1 a.m.: Police are alerted. Residents of the area evacuate. Union Carbide director denies any leak.

2 a.m.: The first people reach Hamidia Hospital. Symptoms include visual impairment and blindness, respiratory difficulties, frothing at the mouth and vomiting.

2.10 a.m.: The alarm is heard outside the plant.

4 a.m.: The gases are brought under control.

6 a.m.: A police loudspeaker broadcasts: “Everything is normal.” ­ PTI