[Reader-list] *Industrial Catastrophe of Bhopal is a Street Crime? (Press Release by Gopalkrishna- Bhopal Verdict Sets Unhealthy Precedent )
Venugopalan K M
kmvenuannur at gmail.com
Mon Jun 7 19:56:46 IST 2010
*Industrial Catastrophe of Bhopal is a Street Crime?*
*Bhopal** Verdict Sets Unhealthy Precedent *
New Delhi-The verdict of June 7 by the Bhopal court convicting seven
people of the Indian subsidiary of a US Corporation will have the
world believe that worst of corporate crimes such as industrial
genocide is the same as street crimes. This sets a precedent for
nuclear disasters too to be treated like traffic accident. This order
will have ramifications for the proposed Liability for Nuclear Damage
Bill that is pending in the parliament. The lesson is that the Bill
must make a provision for criminal liability of corporations inclusive
of the parent company and its subsidiary. The verdict will surely be
appealed against before the High Court. There are at least two cases
pending in the Supreme Court as well.
Today’s verdict was constrained because of the order of Justice A.M.
Ahmadi Bench of the Supreme Court dated 13 September 1996 in which the
charges against Indian officials of Union Carbide India Limited
(subsidiary majority owned by Union Carbide Corporation) were diluted.
Since February 2001, the culpability lies with the Dow Chemical
Company which took over Union Carbide Corporation-USA.
All the seven convicts in the Bhopal gas tragedy have been sentenced
to two years in jail and a fine of Rs 1 lakh each and, got bail for a
surety of Rs 25000 each. The Union Carbide's subsidiary in India has
been found guilty and is fined of Rs 5 lakh for the industrial
disaster. All the officials who were accused in the Bhopal catastrophe
including Keshub Mahindra, the former chairman of the Union Carbide
India Ltd, a unit of US based Union Carbide Corporation and current
chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra Company too has been let off lightly
for the industrial disaster that during his tenure. The convicts have
been held guilty under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence),
304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 336, 337 and 338
(gross negligence) of the Indian Penal Code.
What is quite clear from the verdict is that generations to come will
view Supreme Court’s act of reducing the charge against Union Carbide
Corporation officials in 1996 from manslaughter (which is punishable
with imprisonment up to 10 years) to death caused by a rash or
negligent act (carrying a maximum penalty of two years) with deep
suspicion that belittles its moral stature.
It appears to be a case of turning governmental institutions into
instruments of a market tyranny can destroy life and life support
system for profit and get away with mild rebuke. Industrial disaster
of Bhopal has been exacerbated by failures of judicial and
administrative system. The litigation disaster which emerged from
today’s order is consistent with the way sovereign State of India was
treated when in an unprecedented it appeared before a District Court
of US to obtain a determination of the liability of a US multinational
corporation wherein the US District Judge found that US interest in it
is “very slight”. In an affidavit filed in the Southern District Court
of New York dated December 18, 1985, Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala in
support of defendant US based Union Carbide Corporation’s motion for
dismissal on Forum Non Conveniens Grounds had asserted before
Judge John F Keenan that “There is no doubt that the Indian judicial
system can fairly and satisfactorily handle the Bhopal litigation”.
Today’s verdict exposes the untruthfulness of such claims.
It may be remembered that the Government of India had produced a US
law scholar on the Indian legal system, Marc Galanter, who said that
the interests of the victims would suffer if the American court
declined to deal with the case but the US Corporation hired Nani
Palkhivala, who contended that "while delays in the Indian legal
system are a fact of judicial life, there is no reason to assume that
the Bhopal litigation will be treated in ordinary fashion" in the US
District Court of Judge John F Keenen who found Palkhivala's opinion
more convincing and dismissed the Indian government's cases, under the
condition that UCC would submit to the Indian jurisdiction.
Today’s order reveals that Galanter was right and Palkhivala was wrong
and is guilty of misleading the US District court.
Today’s verdict shows how investigating agencies and the prosecutors
have disgraced themselves and how judges suffer from the poverty of
legal imagination which has led to this explicit case of cover-up.
There was no word on Warren Anderson, the then Chairman of Union
Carbide Corporation of the U.S because his case is being dealt
separately. As early as in 1973, Warren Anderson was aware of untested
technology, faulty design and its unsafe location besides its unsafe
operation. In December 1987 Central Bureau of Investigation filed
criminal charges of culpable homicide against 10 officials including
Union Carbide Company’s President Warren Anderson.
Why was this charge diluted? Warren Anderson who was the Chairman and
CEO of Union Carbide Company when the lethal methyl isocynate (MIC)
leaked from a pesticide plant of the company's Indian subsidiary on
the night of December 2-3, 1984. Anderson was arrested and then
released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh Police on December 7, 1984 and
left for US even as victims continued to suffer because of the
industrial disaster. Anderson who lives in New York
served as Union Carbide CEO till 1986 till his retirement.
In 1992, Anderson was declared a fugitive by the Bhopal court for
failing to appear for hearings in a case of culpable homicide after
that his case was separated from the case in which eight people
employed by Union Carbide were convicted today. In July 2009, an
arrest warrant was issued for him.
Government of India took some 19 years to move a formal request for
his extradition in May 2003 but the US rejected India's request for
extradition of Anderson in June 2004 saying the request did not "meet
requirements of certain provisions" of the bilateral extradition treaty.
Feigning forgetfulness about the industrial disaster caused by a US
Corporation in India, referring to the worst environmental disaster in
US caused by British Petroleum*, *a British global energy company
which is the third largest energy company and the fourth largest
company in the world, on May 27, 2010, US President Barack Obama said,
“As far as I’m concerned, BP (British Petroleum) is responsible for
this horrific disaster, and we will hold them fully accountable on
behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities
victimized by this tragedy. We will demand that they pay every dime
they owe for the damage they’ve done and the painful losses that
they’ve caused.” He has accused the British company of 'nickel and
diming' using an American phrase to describe someone who pays the
minimum to someone having a hard time. Compare an Indian Prime
Minister or the judiciary saying it.
The question is: Isn’t US corporation, Dow Chemicals 'nickel and
diming' Indian citizens in Bhopal. Why is Obama hypocritically silent
about the extradition of *Warren Anderson*, former chairman of Union
Carbide Company and the liability of Dow Chemicals. Congress Party led
United Progressive Alliance government is doing just the opposite of
what US government does for its citizens by underlining the moral and
legal obligations of corporations like British Petroleum. The question
still hanging in the air is that whether Sonia Gandhi led government
would learn lessons from the disasters by the British and US companies
like Dow Chemicals and engineer environmental regulations accordingly.
The worst environmental disaster in US caused by British Petroleum oil
spill on April 20, 2010, the bombing of World Trade Centre and Love
Canal contamination, New York or several such cases of man-made
disasters look like petty offences in comparison to the enormity of
Bhopal’s industrial disaster. This clearly shows that corporations
have become bigger than democratically elected governments especially
in India. When culprits are corporations they play hide and seek by
taking recourse to corporate veil in the absence of the political and
judicial will to pierce through the veil.
Industrial disasters create a compelling rationale for banning them as
legal entities or at least making them subservient to legislative will
as was done by the British Parliament in 1720 through Bubble Act but
this Act was repealed in 1825. Its high time Indian parliament learnt
its lessons from its mother British Parliament. But when political
parties are funded by corporations, it is to much to ask for. If the
political class is still potent, to begin with, it should seek
Anderson’s extradition and demonstrate that Indian parliament is still
alive and corporate criminals cannot get away with industrial
*For Details*: Gopal Krishna, Convenor, ToxicsWatch Alliance,
Blog: toxicswatch.blogspot.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.com, Mb: 9818089660,
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