Note: Indeed the people from Bhopal and their supporters who are on the pavements of Jantar Mantar, New Delhi since 28th February, 2008 are fighting for a cause much larger than their own.
The victims of December 2, 1984 world's worst industrial genocide ever merits active support of all sections of society because in someways we all live in Bhopal.
Besides inheriting the liabilities of Union Carbide Company, Dow Chemicals Company is guilty of having bribed Rs 80 lakh to Indian agriculture ministry officials to expedite registration of three pesticides — Dursban (also called chlorpyriphos), Nurelle and Pride. In February 2007, US financial regulator, the Securities Exchange Commission fined Dow $325,000 for the same. Failure in taking action against the guilty officials by Dr Manmohan Singh and Sharad Pawar tantamoounts to complicity. Does any one know the names of these officials?
It is disgusting to note that these illegally registered pesticides are still being sold freely in India although Dursban has been withdrawn in the US since 2000 to minimise potential health risks from exposure for all US citizens, especially children. But in India, the illegally registered pesticides are poisoning children, and those guilty are roaming free.
On 21st May, 2008 Bhopal gas leak survivors, including children and women, chained themselves to the railings around the Prime Minister’s residence demanding speedy resolution of their demands.
The survivors were demanding legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals. They want an empowered Special Commission set up to oversee the rehabilitation of gas victims. Survivors of the 1984 gas tragedy and victims of water contamination have been on a dharna in New Delhi for the past 55 days seeking an audience with Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister. The protesters accused the Prime Minister of being “insensitive” to the plight of the victims, who include a large number of women and children. In April 2006, the Prime Minister met a delegation of victims and promised to do all that was within his powers.
Likes of Ram Vilas Paswan, the Union Minister for Chemicals deserve appreciation for demanding Rs 100 crore from Dow as an advance to cover costs of environmental remediation at Carbide’s Bhopal site through an application in the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
Abhiskhekh Manu Singhvi, a Member of Parliament and spokesperson for Congress party has been hired by Dow as their lawyer. By any stretch of imagination, can one condone and ignore such blatant conflict of interest?
Instead of taking action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals, the COngress-led United Progressive government of Sonia Gandhi is promoting their investment in India and shielding the companies by providing the legal services of Dr Singhvi and others.
Saare jahan se Nchha
Hindustan Times, Edit Page
For those passing by 7 Race Course Road on Wednesday, a wet day in the
national capital, a strange scene may have greeted them outside the
Prime Minister's residence. People had chained themselves to the
railings of the perimeter gate of the PM's residence and before too
long, were hauled into police vans by the dozen. Who were these
people? And why were they there on such an unnaturally cool summer day
with freshness in the air? These people were survivors and victims of
the Bhopal Gas `tragedy' protesting against the cacophonous silence on
their two-point charter they have demanded from the man who lives
inside the premises they were gathered outside.
These people had walked 800 kilometres from Bhopal to reach New Delhi
in late March and are still on dharna at Jantar Mantar. But more than
the distance, it is the matter of time — nearly quarter of a century —
that has worn them down, that has made them tired. Their charter asks
for two things: one, that a special commission be set up to
rehabilitate families of gas tragedy survivors and those affected by
the contaminated water in Bhopal; two, that the Government of India
pursue legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical. Just in
case the government gets too nervous, compensation doesn't even figure
in the list of demands of these people.
A special commission, they say, is the only mechanism that can ensure
the implementation of assurances of successive PMs that rehabilitation
will be done. The fact that the plight of the survivors has gone from
bad to worse over the last 24 years is proof enough that previous
attempts to coordinate rehabilitation measures — through a Group of
Ministers on Bhopal and, since 2006, by a Coordination Committee —
Legal action against Dow and Union Carbide is necessary not just for
closure for those bereaved and hurt by the gas and poisoned
groundwater. Survivors say that is the only way to ensure that future
`Bhopals' are not repeated elsewhere. But what has the government done
to hold the guilty accountable? Nothing. Union Carbide and its former
chairperson Warren Anderson, both of whom face charges of culpable
homicide and grievous assault, are absconding from Indian courts since
1992. No fresh attempts have been made by the government to enforce
their appearance in court.
Unrelated to the gas disaster, but arising from the routine operation
of a poorly maintained chemical factory, Union Carbide has also
created environmental liabilities for itself — involving the clean-up
of toxic wastes and contaminated groundwater, and compensating people
hurt by the consumption of the poisoned water. By virtue of its
acquisition of Union Carbide in 2001, Dow Chemical has inherited
Carbide's civil liabilities — of clean-up and compensation for
water-affected people. Also, in acquiring Union Carbide, Dow was well
aware that it was inheriting an absconder. While Dow cannot be held
responsible for the original crime of causing the disaster, it is
guilty of harbouring an absconder — an offence under Section 212 of
the Indian Penal Code.
In April 2006, when the survivors and victims of Bhopal met Manmohan
Singh after a 35-day walk, 15-day sit-in and a six-day hungerstrike,
the PM promised to explore all options within law to hold Carbide and
Dow accountable. Barely a few months later, the Union Commerce
Ministry approved collaboration between Reliance and Dow for the
transfer of Union Carbide-owned and patented technology. A
900,000-tonne per year polypropylene plant being built by Reliance in
its Jamnagar Special Economic Zone will use Carbide's Unipol PP
technology, catalysts and process software. This is illegal. Union
Carbide's assets in India are subject to confiscation as per the 1992
order of the Bhopal magistrate. In 2005, Indian Oil was forced to
scrap a deal with Dow involving the Carbide-owned `METEOR' technology.
Dow had falsely claimed that the technology to be licensed was its own
and not Carbide's in order to avoid questions about the latter's
Why would the Government of India go out on a limb to help Dow Chemical? A note forwarded by Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has the answer. The approval, the note says, “was greatly appreciated [by Dow] as a signal that Dow was not blacklisted as an investor”.
Dow’s jitters began when the Ministry of Chemical filed an application in the Madhya Pradesh High Court demanding Rs 100 crore from Dow as an advance to cover costs of environmental remediation at Carbide’s Bhopal site. In 2005, Dow began a lobbying operation that roped in the support of a veritable list of influential people in the Government. Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Ratan Tata and the then Cabinet Secretary B.K. Chaturvedi were soon singing Dow’s tune — that any overtures to hold Dow liable for Bhopal-related issues will scare away Dow’s promised $1 billion investment in India and also discourage other American investors. Once again, issues of investment are clouding issues of justice.
Dow’s crimes in India do not arise only from its association with Union Carbide. In February 2007, US financial regulator, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) fined Dow $325,000. The reason: Dow had paid Rs 80 lakh as a bribe to Indian agriculture ministry officials to expedite registration of three pesticides — Dursban, Nurelle and Pride. Talking to faculty members in IIT-Bombay, Dow India CEO and old Carbide hand Ramesh Ramachandran blamed the bribery scandal on its employees. Dow, he said, took pro-active action against the errant officials. But what he did not mention was that Dow had approved this expenditure in its submission to the SEC. Even worse, the illegally registered products are still being sold freely in India.
In 2000, Dursban was withdrawn from all home and garden products in the US. Announcing this, US Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner declared that this action came after “completing the most extensive scientific review of the potential hazards from a pesticide ever conducted. This action, the result of an agreement with the manufacturers, will significantly minimise potential health risks from exposure to Dursban, also called chlorpyriphos, for all Americans, especially children.”
Responding to a question about the bribery in Parliament, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said in May 2007 that a CBI probe was underway. The probe is concluded. But the report is gathering dust. In the meantime, the illegally registered pesticides are poisoning our children, and those guilty are roaming free.
In demanding that the Dow-Reliance deal is revoked, and that the illegal registration for the pesticides be withdrawn, the people from Bhopal you may have seen outside the Prime Minister’s house on Wednesday are fighting for a cause much larger than their own.
May 22, 2008
The author is a Chennai-based independent journalist and researcher.
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