(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 06, 2009
have passed since the worst industrial disaster in history, on 3
night of 2-3 December 1984, a lethal cloud of
gas (later found
to be largely composed of the extremely toxic gas called Methyl
MIC) escaped from the pesticide
Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in
Unjust & Arbitrary
The tale of this shocking mass killing does not end here. Redress and compensation was sought from UCC through legal means, which it evaded and blocked for years until matters were taken up in the Supreme Court of India. Even as investigations to assess the true extent of damage to lives and environment were dragging on, the Supreme Court, much to the satisfaction of UCC, brokered a settlement between the government of India and UCC in 1989. Under the terms of the settlement, UCC promised to pay 470 million US Dollars (about Rs 705 crores at the then rate of exchange) as compensation, while the government of India agreed to withdraw the criminal cases instituted against the company and its officials for causing the disaster. Compensation was to be paid for arbitrarily estimated 3000 fatalities and over one lakh injured.
The amounts of compensation fixed by the Supreme Court for various categories (Rs 1-3 lakhs for deaths, Rs 0.5 - 2 lakhs for permanent disability, Rs 50,000 for grievious injuries) were a pittance. Compare this, for instance, to the Uphaar fire tragedy in Delhi where 59 persons were killed due to asphyxiation after a fire in a cinema hall in 1997.The Delhi High Court awarded Rs 15 lakhs and Rs 18 lakhs each to next of kin of respectively minor and major victims, along with 9 per cent interest starting from the day of the tragedy.
The sum of 470 million dollars was very close to the 450 million insurance that Carbide carried, meaning that Carbide had to pay only 20 million beyond what the insurance companies paid out, making it one of the cheapest damages settlement ever for any major chemical accident. Evidence suggests that the hasty settlement was also designed to pre-empt the criminal prosecution of Union Carbide officials and the further progress of investigation by the CBI into the real causes of the corporate crime.
Over 25 years have passed since this arbitrary and unjust settlement was imposed on the victims. Thousands of victims still continue to suffer from serious ailments and disabilities directly attributable to the gases; on an average about 6000 victims continue to visit medical facilities every day. A whole generation of people debilitated by the toxic gases struggled through these years bringing up children who suffered from its harmful effects, fighting declining physical capacities to earn their living, and awaiting justice. In the latter half of the 1990s, persistent investigations revealed that UCIL had been poisoning the surrounding areas by freely dumping toxic waste produced in the routine operation of the pesticide plant since 1969. Ground water contamination and other continuing environmental damages are yet to be properly assessed.
Not only have the victims of the Corporate crime been denied due material compensation, they have also been denied proper medical care, rehabilitation and other forms of support. No treatment guidelines were formulated and treatment facilities continue to be far too inadequate. The ICMR wound up its studies on the long term health effects of the poisonous gas barely ten years after the disaster.
governments (at the state or central levels)
callous disregard to the conditions in
Although twentyfive years have gone by, the Bhopal Gas Disaster is still a live issue not only for the thousands of residents of Bhopal but also for all those concerned about these issues. The transfer of obsolete, faulty and hazardous technology and gross violation of safety standards by UCC and its subsequent attempts to evade responsibility clearly show the contempt in which such MNCs hold the people, especially of third world countries like India. In the current era of imperialist globalisation, this predatory drive for profits at any cost by international capital needs to be highlighted. It is the same drive that makes poor people work for a pittance in countries round the world, so that super-profits can be expropriated by corporate behemoths. It is the same drive that intervenes economically, diplomatically and even militarily in country after country to expand and perpetuate harsh and unjust exploitation. And ultimately, it is the same drive that caused Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, unleashed Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people, and has caused unimaginable hardship and misery for the people of Iraq and elsewhere.
The compromises and vacillation of the government of India, the state government and various arms of the State machinery, in connection with the Bhopal disaster, reveals their disregard towards the well-being and lives of people, and connivance with international capital in all its manifestations and actions. This tendency has grown considerably in the past twentyfive years, and in the current ethos of FDI worship, it has acquired almost an institutional status.
The lessons of
Bhopal also brought forth the important issues relating to location of industries, especially hazardous ones, the need for a strict mechanism for environmental impact assessment and disclosure of technological details, strengthening laws and regulations relating to use of hazardous material and liabilities arising thereof. Special attention needs to be paid towards evolving a regulatory framework for MNCs and their activities on Indian soil.
The people of Bhopal have fought for two and a half decades for justice and managed to get only paltry concessions. However, several life and death issues still remain unaddressed even as they continue to struggle through legal and other avenues. Their struggle has been consistently supported by democratic forces all over the country (as also internationally). But this struggle of solidarity needs to be vastly strengthened in order to, both, ensure that justice is done for Bhopal as well as to raise the level of vigilance against ideologies and economic systems that caused Bhopal twentyfive years ago and continue to flourish even today.
So, what can be done now for securing justice to the people of Bhopal, and ensuring that such a disaster does not strike elsewhere? Some of the crucial demands are:
For the People of Bhopal
§ Rehabilitation: Develop a comprehensive strategy for assuring suitable employment to families of victims, including training, credit for working capital etc.
§ Medical care: A broad framework of treatment for gas effects and toxic contamination should be evolved and prescribed, under a unified delivery system. All research findings including ICMR studies should be made public. ICMR should forthwith restart all medical research pertaining to effects of the toxic gases on life systems.
§ Clean up: Government of India should take over the task of cleaning up the former UCIL plant site in a transparent manner, involving suitable experts and specialists.
§ Public Distribution System: Special ration cards should be issued for victims and all essential commodities should be made available at controlled prices through suitably located fair price shops in Bhopal.
§ Fast-track special court for criminal cases: A dedicated special court should be set up for speedy trial of the criminal cases in order that the guilty are brought to justice forthwith. The extradition of Anderson and other accused from the US should be vigorously pursued and diplomatic pressure exercised on the US through bilateral and multilateral fora for forcing the US to comply to the demand.
§ Right to Information: All previous and on-going research/investigative reports should be made public and a transparent system be established for future.
§ Settlement & Compensation: The central government must reopen the Bhopal Settlement and undertake the necessary legal measures towards that end. It should demand additional compensation from UCC/Dow for disbursement among victims after re-categorisation, inclusion of second generation victims and fresh fixation of amounts.
To protect the Rights of People in General
§ Location of hazardous industries should be subject to a principled policy, applicable all over the country, with which local zoning laws need to be in consonance. Such policy should prohibit location of categorised industries in inhabited areas, lay down mandatory measures for safety as also containment, and place the onus on the industry. Monitoring mechanism, through tripartite statutory bodies, measures for workers safety, compensation etc. should also be included in this. Well-defined penalty provisions and the principle of "polluter pays" should be clearly and legally established. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), with complete transparency and participation of local people in hearings, needs to be made mandatory in such cases.
§ All technology transfer cases from foreign countries should be subject to stringent screening by expert committees, with workers representatives. Complete disclosure of technical details including raw materials, processes, potential hazards, methods of prevention and containment should be mandatory.
§ Laws relating to industrial safety and occupational health should be strengthened in the light of Bhopal and general development of industrial technologies. These include labour laws as well as environmental statutes.