Pass the methyl isocyanate, please [Business Standard]

June 16, 2010

From Mitali Saran’s column, Stet:

Hear ye, o people of India: don’t think you can get away with really bad stuff, because the long arm of the law will reach out and bring you to trial and give you what you deserve. In Bhopal the law heard 178 prosecution witnesses on the stand talk about the estimated 25,000 people who have died or suffered from methyl isocyanate poisoning and its after-effects since 1984; it heard eight defence witnesses mutter darkly about sabotage; it examined 3,000-odd documents; it fast-tracked the whole thing so that only one of the accused died in the process. The law weighed up the evidence, decided the accused were guilty, and then fearlessly sentenced them to the legal equivalent of a wedgie.

Do you really want a wedgie, o people of India?

Read the whole thing.


Games big corporations play [The Hindu]

June 16, 2010

P Sainath in The Hindu:

Yet, the notion that the main injustice to Bhopal is the failure to extradite then UCC chief Warren Anderson from America is mildly ridiculous. Trying to evade the lessons the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster threw up on the tyranny of giant corporations is completely so. Well over two decades after its MIC gas slaughtered 20,000 (mostly very poor) human beings, Bhopal still pays the price of Carbide’s criminality. (Evident from the long-term impact on the health of the gas-affected. And from the poisoned soil and water around the former Carbide plant.) While the Indian government’s appalling Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, if adopted, would give legal cover to such conduct across the country.

Bhopal marked the horrific beginning of a new era. One that signalled the collapse of restraint on corporate power. The ongoing BP spill in the Mexican Gulf — with estimates ranging from 30,000-80,000 barrels a day — tops off a quarter-of-a-century where corporations could (and have) done anything in the pursuit of profit, at any human cost. Barack Obama’s ‘hard words’ on BP are mostly pre-November poll-rants. The BP can take a lot of comfort from two U.S. Supreme Court judgments in the past two years.

[Read the whole thing.]


55¢

June 8, 2010

So the verdict is in.

25 years it took to come to this conclusion?

As Indra Sinha says in The Guardian’s Comment is Free

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.


26 yrs on, Bhopal gas tragedy verdict on June 7

May 14, 2010

From CNN-IBN

Twenty-six years after the Bhopal gas tragedy which claimed thousands of lives, a local court trying the case would pronounce its verdict on June 7.
Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari said Thursday he will pronounce the judgement on June seven on the toxic leak from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) factory (now defunct), after the arguments of prosecution, CBI, and defence of eight accused drew to a close in the 23-year-old trial.
During the trial, 178 prosecution witnesses were examined and 3,008 documents were exhibited.
CBI counsel C Sahay has argued that the world’s worst industrial disaster occurred due to defective design of the UCIL’s factory and poor maintenance.
Sahay told the court that the Union Carbide Corporation, USA, surveyed the UCIL’s Bhopal factory in 1982 and found serious safety and maintenance lapses on nearly 10 counts.
He contended that even after UCC experts’ team visit adequate safety measures and maintenance work did not take place in the UCIL.


Giving Dow a heart (Kids for a Better Future)

December 9, 2009


From the YouTube page:

On the 25th Anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, Kids for a Better Future tried to give hundreds of hearts to DOW Chemicals. With new hearts, the hoped that the heartless company would finally take responsibility for its mess in Bhopal, where they have killed 25,000 people and left another 150,000 seriously ill. Scared silly of these kids, the company closed down its offices for the day and ran for cover.

There’s also a photo album here, and a report here.

All links courtesy Akash and Gautam Mehta. As their father (who, by the way, wrote this a few days ago), said to us via email, “My children, Gautama (14) and Akash (11) are involved with activism around the Bhopal issue. Their work shows that Bhopal is not forgotten in America, and there’s a second generation that’s taking up the struggle for justice.”

(The Kids For a Better Future website)


Bhopal: 25 years of poison (The Guardian)

December 6, 2009

Bhopal: 25 years of poison – Indra Sinha, in the Guardian:

“Wake up people of Bhopal, you are on the edge of a volcano!”

In September 1982, Bhopali journalist Raj Keswani wrote a terrifying story, the first of a series of articles, for the city’s Jansatta daily. Bhopal was about to be annihilated. “It will take just an hour, at most an hour-and-a-half, for every one of us to die.”

Keswani’s information came from worried staff at the Union Carbide factory, where a worker, Ashraf Khan, had just been killed in a phosgene spill. The first world war gas was used in the production of MIC (methyl-isocyanate), a substance 500 times deadlier than hydrogen cyanide, and so volatile that unless kept in spotless conditions, refrigerated to 0C, it can even react explosively with itself. Cooling it slows reactions, buys time, but MIC is so dangerous that chemical engineers recommend not storing it at all unless absolutely necessary and then only in the tiniest quantities. In Bhopal it was kept in a huge tank, the size of a steam locomotive.

Far from the shining cathedral of science depicted in Union Carbide adverts, the Bhopal factory more closely resembled a farmyard. Built in the 70s to make pesticides for India’s “green revolution”, a series of bad monsoons and crop failures had left it haemorrhaging money.

Read on.


A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal (New York Times)

December 4, 2009

Suketu Mehta writes in the New York Times:

IN the Mumbai kindergarten my son went to, the children never had to clean up after themselves; that was the servants’ job. So I really liked the school my son attended when we moved back to Brooklyn, where the teachers made the children tidy up at the end of the day. “Cleanup time, cleanup time!” my 6-year-old sang, joyfully gathering his scraps. It’s a wonderful American tradition: you always clean up the mess you made.

and

Union Carbide and Dow were allowed to get away with it because of the international legal structures that protect multinationals from liability. Union Carbide sold its Indian subsidiary and pulled out of India. Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide chief executive at the time of the gas leak, lives in luxurious exile in the Hamptons, even though there’s an international arrest warrant out for him for culpable homicide. The Indian government has yet to pursue an extradition request. Imagine if an Indian chief executive had jumped bail for causing an industrial disaster that killed tens of thousands of Americans. What are the chances he’d be sunning himself in Goa?

The Indian government, fearful of scaring away foreign investors, has not pushed the issue with American authorities. Dow has used a kind of blackmail with the Indians; a 2006 letter from Andrew Liveris, the chief executive, to India’s ambassador to the United States asked for guarantees that Dow would not be held liable for the cleanup, and thanked him for his “efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate.”

and

The survivors of Bhopal want only to be treated as human beings — not victims, not greedy money-grabbers, just human beings who’ve gone through hell and are entitled to a measure of dignity. That includes concrete things like cleaning up the mess and providing health care for the sick, and also something more abstract but equally important — an acknowledgment that a wrong was done to them, and an apology, which Bhopalis have yet to receive.

That was another fine thing my son learned in the Brooklyn school: when you’ve done something bad, you should say you’re sorry. After a quarter of a century, Dow should acknowledge that it is responsible for a very big mess. And now, it’s cleanup time.

Read the whole piece.