[Reader-list] Industrial Catastrophe of Bhopal is a Street Crime?

SUNDARA BABU babuubab at gmail.com
Mon Jun 7 23:53:08 IST 2010

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Gopal Krishna <krishnagreen at gmail.com>

*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

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

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 the
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 genocide.

*For Details*: Gopal Krishna, Convenor, ToxicsWatch Alliance,

Blog: toxicswatch.blogspot.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.com, Mb: 9818089660,

E-mail-krishna2777 at gmail.com

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