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Bhopal Court Orders CBI to Arrest Union Carbide's Warren Anderson

Written By Gopal Krishna on Sunday, August 02, 2009 | 11:26 PM

Bhopal is facing the horrendous legacy of world's worst industrial accident for last 25 years. Victims and survivors of the Bhopal disaster celebrated after hearing news that the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of Bhopal ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to arrest Warren Anderson and produce him before the court without delay.

The local court has re-issued non-bailable arrest (NBA) warrant against the then Union Carbide Company Chairman, Anderson in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case, world worst industrial disaster.

The arrest warrant was re-issued by Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan Prakash Tiwari against Anderson on July 20, 2009 following an intervenor application filed by an NGO - Gas Peedit Sangharsh Samiti, seeking re-issuance of the arrest warrant against the accused, saying that the warrant served to him way back on March 27, 1992 had not yet yeilded any result.

The court directed the CBI, the prosecution agency to arrest Anderson, and produce him in the court in pursuance of the arrest warrant.

The case came up for the hearing on 31st July, 2009 in the CJM and was adjourned till August 19.

The infamous gas tragedy--world's worst industrial disaster--took place on the intervening nights of December 2-3, 1984, killing thousands of people and maimed scores of others when the deadly Methyl Iso Cayanide (MIC) leaked from the Union Carbide's pesticide plant situated in the old Bhopal area.

Anderson, former chairman of Union Carbide Corporation and the prime accused along with the company, was proclaimed an absconder in 1992 after he refused to appear in court despite several summons. The court has asked the CBI to explain what steps it has taken to enforce the warrant issued, and extradition ordered, in 2002.

A copy of the order was also sent to the Union Ministry of External Affairs. Union Carbide Corporation and Anderson are charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, grievous assault and other serious crimes in relation to the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster.

The news was received with jubilation by survivors who gathered in the court premises within an hour of the order being received. “The CBI was hoping to indefinitely delay this case. This is a very welcome and much anticipated move that the Chief Judicial Magistrate has independently ordered renewed action on this front,” said Rashida Bee, a survivor leader and member of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh. “Punishing the guilty and having them face the law is extremely important for survivors to attain closure to the horrors of the disaster. More importantly, this will send a strong signal that corporations and corporate bosses cannot play with our lives,” she said.

In 2002, Bhopal supporters traced Warren Anderson to the elite New York neighbourhood of The Hamptons, where he was found living a life of luxury. Survivors groups in Bhopal said they will now move to have renewed action to enforce the appearance of Union Carbide Corporation's authorised representatives. In a related matter, an application to summon The Dow Chemical Company, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, is pending before the High Court.

Earlier in an interim order, a local court in Jabalpur has restrained printing, publishing, selling and distribution of the book "It Was Five Past Midnight In Bhopal" in India till further order following an application seeking permanent injunction on the book.

The book, authored by French writers Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro and published by Full Circle Publication Private Limited, New Delhi, in 2001, is based on Bhopal Gas Tragedy of December 1984.

Additional District Judge Rajeev Singh passed the order on 13 JUne, 2009 on an application filed by former Madhya Pradesh Director General of Police Swaraj Puri seeking permanent injunction on the book, stating that certain contents defamed him.

In his application, Puri, who was the Bhopal Superintendent of Police during the gas tragedy, stated that certain contents in the book were allegedly based on hearsays and conjectures and shows the police action after the tragedy in a negative manner. The court had framed issues in the defamation suit filed by Puri on March 23, 2009.

Prior to this the Madras High Court held on 10th JUly, 2009 that a multinational firm cannot claim any "extra legal rights over Indian people" and they are allowed to carry on their business subject to Indian laws. The Court's observation came while rejecting a plea by US-based Dow Chemical Industries Private Ltd, the current owner of Union Carbide, to restrain organisations campaigning for justice for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy victims from "obstructing the company from functioning smoothly".

Dismissing the company's application seeking various kinds of relief as "misconceived and devoid of merit", Justice K Chandru said, "MNCs cannot claim any extra legal rights over the Indian people."

Over 2,000 people died and about two lakh people were affected after toxic gas from Union Carbide's plant in Bhopal leaked in December 1984.

The rights enshrined in Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution are for only the citizens of the country and not others, the Court held. The Article relates to practising any profession or to carrying on any occupation, trade or business.

Stating that the court would have to see whether the company had a prima facie case, Justice K Chandru noted that barring a protest on February 10, 2009 the company was unable to cite any other incident.

Justice Chandru pointed out that except for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJIB) based in China, the other six organisations listed in the petition as respondents did not have any office in Tamil Nadu.

Besides, they have also not been sued in a representative capacity, the Judge observed.

Union Carbide became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company (TDCC) in February 2001. The ICJIB and other organisations are seeking rehabilitation of the gas tragedy victims.

Dow had sought an injunction to restrain ICJIB and others from picketing, holding demonstrations outside its office in Guindy here, harassing and preventing employees from entering or leaving the premises.

Revealing the state of institutional response, Suchandana Gupta of The Times of India reported "Hospital turns away gas victims" on 8 July 2009: Mushtaq Ahmed was 20 when the gas tragedy struck this city on the midnight of December 2, 1984. Over the years, he developed a cardiac problem and both his kidneys were damaged.

On September 24, 2008, he complained of stomach ache and was rushed to Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC), a super-speciality hospital built for treating gas victims and under the supervision of the Supreme Court. But Ahmed died the next day without any treatment as the hospital turned him away refusing to admit him.

"The doctor in the emergency ward would not admit him. He kept reading the newspaper while a nurse told us to go to another hospital because there was no doctor in the gastrology department," recalled Ahmed’s brother Iftaqar.

"From 12 midnight to 12 noon the next day, my brother kept tossing in pain on the hospital floor and no one would even take a look at him. We asked for an ambulance to shift him to the district hospital. We were denied that too. By the time we arranged some money and an auto to take him elsewhere, he died on the hospital floor."

Twenty-five years after the tragedy, victims are being denied admission and treatment in the hospital, despite the fact that it was built with the compensation money for gas victims. Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Sangathan, a Bhopal-based NGO, has demanded dissolution of the board of trustees of the hospital.

The hospital was constructed with the money received from the sale of Union Carbide properties. Sangathan convener Abdul Jabbar said, ‘‘The sole intention of this ultra-modern, state-of-the-art hospital was to provide medical treatment to gas victims. The hospital initially had a Rs 290 crore corpus which has now become more than Rs 500 crore. The interest earned annually from this money is around Rs 50 to Rs 60 crore. Also, other patients pay for their treatment, which brings an annual income of Rs 6 crore to Rs 9 crore.’’

‘‘Mushtaq Ahmed is not an isolated case. Gas victims are being denied treatment, admission, even medicines. The neurology department has no doctor. Nephrology and urology departments are running with one doctor each. Six departments have closed down and 10 are running partially. Take a gas victim to the hospital and the doctor is not available, there are no medicines and there is no bed to admit patients,’’ Jabbar alleged.

Aqueel Ahmed, 29, a gas victim, has damaged kidneys and requires dialysis three times a week. He claimed the hospital is supposed to provide treatment and medicine free of cost. Instead a rule has been formulated to provide dialysis just 10 times in a life-time. ‘‘Why only 10 dialysis when they are supposed to be providing free treatment for life-time? They told me to get my treatment done outside. I require hemoglobin injections once a week and BMHRC has not given a single shot so far. Each injection costs me Rs 1,300. I have gone bankrupt having paid Rs 8 lakh for dialysis and injections,’’ Aqueel said.
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