July  2002 

Justice for Bhopal gas victims

Dear friends,

Many of you will remember the December ’84 chemical disaster in Bhopal when half a million people were surrounded by deadly poison clouds in their sleep. The disaster killed more than 8,000 in its immediate wake. The death toll today is well over 20,000 and rising with more than 30 survivors dying every month. The poisons entered the blood stream of the exposed people and damaged almost every organ of their bodies.

Today well over 1,20,000 survivors are in desperate need of medical attention for chronic exposure induced diseases. Tens of thousands of children born to exposed parents suffer from growth retardation and worse. An overwhelming majority of the exposed people earned their living through hard labour. Thousands of families are on the brink of starvation because the breadwinners are too sick to work. Over 20,000 people are today forced to drink water contaminated with cancer and other disease causing chemicals that have been recklessly dumped and have seeped in to the ground water.

As you know, the principal author of this continuing disaster in Bhopal — the worst of its kind in the world — is Union Carbide Corporation. There is substantial evidence that this American multinational with complete control over the pesticide factory in Bhopal was deliberately negligent in its location, design, operation and maintenance. Two years before the disaster, the corporation’s safety experts had warned of a "potential for the release of toxic materials" in a business confidential memo.

The Indian government has been in cahoots with the corporation before, during and in the aftermath of the disaster. Government agencies have actively colluded to underplay the number of the dead, grossly under–assess the extent of injuries and suppress medical information potentially disadvantageous to the corporation. In February 1989, the Indian government entered into a collusive settlement with Union Carbide without the knowledge of, let alone consultation with, the victims of Bhopal. The settlement cost the corporation 43 cents per share and 95 per cent of the victims got a paltry sum of Rs. 25,000 for injuries they are likely to suffer all their lives.

From this amount the government took back the money it had paid as relief to the victims — about Rs.10, 000 from every individual. In the distribution of compensation people were denied their legal entitlement to the interest on the compensation sum. This has resulted in a balance of well over Rs. 1,300 crore in the settlement fund after almost all victims have been paid.

The Indian government’s complicity in the crimes of Bhopal is most glaring in its wilful neglect in prosecuting Union Carbide and its officials. Different political parties have come to power at the Centre in the last ten years. None of these has taken the tiniest step to extradite the corporate culprits. According to a secret internal memo, Indian government’s deliberate inaction stems from concerns that it would "jeopardise the investment climate".

In February 2001, Union Carbide in a "vanishing act" merged into the Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Michigan, USA. Dow, now the largest chemical corporation in the world, has inherited the medical, social, environmental and criminal liabilities arising out of the Bhopal disaster. Defying established legal procedures and judicial principles in USA and India, Dow’s PR–speak on Bhopal is that it does not hold itself liable for a factory they never operated in a place they never have been. Continuing with Union Carbide’s tradition of liability evasion, Dow refuses to provide for long term health care, income support to the destitute and the disabled and cleaning up the ongoing contamination.

Meanwhile in the longest struggle of its kind the survivors of Bhopal continue to struggle facing the severest of odds. Members of the three organisations of survivors, majority of whom are women, continue to meet every week to talk, plan and agitate. Ever since the merger of Union Carbide with Dow, hundreds of women survivors have twice stormed the headquarters of Dow, India in Mumbai. In response, Dow has sued for Rs. 77,000 against 17 persons and organisations for damages done to its office. Faced with the agitation of Bhopal survivors and their supporters in the USA, Dow today promises to offer concrete "humanitarian" programs for the victims of Bhopal.

This could as well be PR–speak. Quite clearly the surest way to get Dow to fulfil its responsibilities in Bhopal is to establish its accountability (inherited through the merger) in the ongoing criminal case. This is the job of the prosecution — the Central Bureau of Investigation. And this is what the CBI was told to do by the chief judicial magistrate of the Bhopal district court during the hearing on the case on April 10, 2002.

Two current happenings have overtaken the ongoing pressure building on Dow. In the hearing on the criminal case on the disaster on May 23, 2002 the CBI was supposed to present its results of investigation into the Dow–Carbide merger. Instead, it presented an application that would in effect end the entire case against Warren Anderson and by extension against Union Carbide/Dow.

In the application the CBI, without doubt following instructions from the highest authorities in the government, sought to dilute the criminal charges from homicide 304 (ii) IPC, punishable by 10 years imprisonment and fine to negligence 304(a) IPC, punishable by maximum two years imprisonment or fine. Through this second betrayal of the Bhopal people, the Indian government seeks to convert the worst industrial massacre in history into a crime equivalent to a car accident.

Worse still, if the CBI’s application is granted there would no longer be any legal basis left for extraditing Anderson or the authorised representatives of the corporation. The Indo–US extradition treaty does not cover car accidents. The CJM, Bhopal is expected to deliver a decision on CBI’s application during the next hearing on the criminal case on July 17–18, 2002.

The other current burning issue of Bhopal also demonstrates the utter apathy of the central government towards the victims of Union Carbide. On June 7, the group of ministers (GOM) on Bhopal in the central government declared that the residents of the 20 municipal wards of Bhopal hitherto considered unaffected by the disaster would be given compensation from the balance of the settlement fund. Given that there has been no evidence of exposure among these residents (in fact the ICMR drew its sample of unexposed persons from these wards) the only qualification the residents seem to have is that they are mostly Hindus. The govt. took this decision on a demand put forth by Uma Bharati, the MP from Bhopal better known for her cheerleader role in the demolition of the Babri mosque by the saffron goons in 1992. The cynical decision of the govt. is a blatant attempt to rob the people of the 36 gas affected wards to appease the Hindu vote bank. Its Gujarat all over again.

The state government in its turn has opposed the demand of the BJP MP. This opposition articulated by the minister for gas relief, however, is not motivated by any respect for the legal rights of the victims. The state government would want that the funds are handed over to it to spend on provision of drinking water supply, disposal of residual chemicals and other activities. Funding these vital activities, as outlined by the survivors, is strictly the responsibility of Dow Chemicals. Four years back the state government allowed Union Carbide to abandon the factory site without paying for its rehabilitation. Today it seeks to rob the gas victims to bail out Dow. Additionally, the comptroller and auditor general’s yearly reports on MP government’s mishandling of moneys meant for gas victims make it the last agency to be entrusted with public funds for this purpose. The go on Bhopal is likely to finalise its decision in mid–July.

The survivors of Bhopal have decided to oppose the two decisions of the Indian government both in the court and through a relay hunger strike in New Delhi starting from June 26th. Their demand is that:

i. The home minister direct the CBI to withdraw its application and immediately move on extradition of Anderson and the representative/s of Union Carbide from the USA.

ii. The govt. take back its decision to distribute compensation to the residents of the 20 wards from the balance of the settlement funds and make arrangement for payment of interest to the victims of the 36 wards with immediate effect.

Friends, through this letter we seek your support to this last ditch battle of the survivors. The dilution of charges against Union Carbide and its officials is a license granted to multinational corporations to kill and maim the ordinary people in this country. More than ever before your support is critical to defeat the evil designs of our pseudo–nationalist government.

Please support the current struggle for justice in Bhopal by:

1. Visiting the site at Jantar Mantar (if you are in Delhi) where 200 survivors of Union Carbide gas disaster from Bhopal are sitting in Dharna and 50 of them are on relay hunger strike.

2. Organising media visible hunger strikes in solidarity of the Bhopal survivors wherever you are.

3. Publicising the current issues of Bhopal through all means available to you.

4. Organising signature campaign against the decision of the home ministry to dilute criminal charges and that of the group of ministers on Bhopal [c/o ministry of chemicals and fertilisers] to rob the victims of their legal entitlement.

5. Joining in the email/fax action at the corpwatchindia and Web sites.

Please contact us at any of the addresses below and send your ideas/suggestions and confirmation of participation.

Bhopal: Rashida Bi, President, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, House no. 12, Gali no. 2, near Naseer Masjid, Bag Umrao Dulha, Bhopal.

Balkrishna Namdeo, President, Gas Peedit Nirashrit Morcha, A–542, Housing Board Colony, Aishbag, Bhopal Tel: 0755–757619.

Abdul Jabbar, Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan

51, Rajendra Nagar, Bhopal, Tel : 0755 – 242727.

Satinath Sarangi, Member, Bhopal Group for Information and Action, B–2/302, Sheetal Nagar, Berasia Road, Bhopal. Contact Tel: 0755–730914

e-mail:[email protected]

Delhi: E. Deenadayalan, The Other Media, B-14, (Second Floor), Gulmohar Park, New Delhi - 110 067, Tel: 6514847 / 6561743, Fax: 6511504;

e-mail: [email protected]

Mumbai, Vinod Shetty, Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, Maharashtra Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, 61, Gandhi Nagar, 2709, 2nd floor, Bandra East, Mumbai 400 051; tel:645 8411;

e-mail: [email protected]



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