Dow Chemical: US official was unnecessarily worried
Posted August 23, 2010on:
It was sheer over-enthusiasm on the part of US deputy National Security Adviser (NSA) Michael Froman to refer to the Dow Chemical case in his reported communication to Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia following the latter’s request for enhanced World Bank funds. That was not necessary. The Indian Establishment has scrupulously striven in the last quarter century to ensure that no US interests are hurt. If that has kept lakhs of persons in perpetual misery, it’s only too bad.
The American official is apparently ignorant about the Indian tradition of talking a lot and doing little. If one were to compile all that has been said by the politicians, bureaucrats and the Madhya Pradesh High Court and Supreme Court benches about the Bhopal gas leak disaster and its survivors in the past 25 years, it would fill millions of pages. But how much does one see on the ground?
Froman seems to have taken the noise created by the Indian politicians seriously and must be afraid that they intended to really do something about the culprits and victims of the world’s biggest industrial disaster. He failed to see how the issue, which has erupted after the June 7 farce in the Bhopal CJM’s court, is gradually dying out.
True, the CBI did move a curative petition in the Supreme Court seeking annulment of its 1996 verdict which had changed the penal sections to provide relief to those held responsible for the tragedy. The Union government launched a blitzkrieg in the media before and after filing the petition (which may have contributed to Froman’s apprehensions). However, on scrutiny, the Registry of the Supreme Court found the petition “defective”. The attorney general, who had filed the petition, was asked to submit the required documents and make the petition perfect.
The Government of India employs best of the legal brains and is in a position to draw upon the services of any in the country if the need arises. How come the petition filed in the apex court on such an important and volatile issue was incomplete and defective? There is only one plausible explanation: to procrastinate the issue for as long as possible.
Once the petition is filed, it will take no one knows how long for the Supreme Court to decide the issue. Even if the petition is allowed and the 1996 verdict is reversed, what then? The apex court may revert the case to the trial court for fresh hearing. The earlier hearing has taken over two decades to be completed. Will the hearing start ad novo? Some of the witnesses have expired; many more are past the age when they can recall clearly what happened a long time ago. Even the accused are in a pretty advanced age.
This is not an idle thought. Even the Supreme Court is aware this. Not long ago a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and T S Thakur expressed the same apprehension. It observed: “it took the trial court 25 years to decide the case. It will then come on an appeal in the High Court where it will drag on for another 15 years. After that it will come to the Supreme Court where it will go on for another 10 years. By that time all the victims will be dead”. And what if the Supreme Court refuses to interfere and annul the 1996 verdict? Was it deliberate, or sheer apathy, that the Group of Ministers (GoM) had failed to take all these possibilities into account?
The ministers at the Centre have declared ad nauseum that Warren Anderson will be extradited to India to face trial. What steps has it taken in that direction? The warrant was issued by the Bhopal court for the arrest of Warren Anderson and the matter had been stuck with the Union government all these years. The Bhopal court had issued over two decades ago a letter rogatory for the CBI to extend the scope of its investigation into the United States mainly to collect evidence on the difference in safety measures installed at the Union Carbide’s Virginia plant and at Bhopal plant but the Union government has stalled it all along. It was revealed in a New York court that a seven-member committee of the Union Carbide had decided to test an unproven technology in the Bhopal plant. Warren Anderson, who was a member of the decision-making committee, later became chairman and CEO of Union Carbide to oversee the implementation of the decisions of the committee. Besides, the safety system installed at the Bhopal plant was much inferior to the system used at the Virginia plant.
The Union government is reported to be planning to file another curative petition in the Supreme Court seeking annulment of the 1989 settlement between the Government of India and Union Carbide for US dollars 470 million as the compensation for the gas leak affected persons. The government will seek Rs 1500 crore more. That again is a time-consuming process. Even the additional Rs 1500 crore will be much too inadequate, as the NGOs working among the survivors have claimed.
The government, if it is really serious about helping the gas victims, may consider the suggestions made by four major NGOs in a letter to law minister Veerappa Moily. The suggestions include: executes the Letter Rogatory issued by the Bhopal court on July 6, 1988 to the US government without further delay; execute the non-bailable warrant issued by the Bhopal court on March 27, 1992 against Warren Anderson; intervene on behalf of the NGOs representing the gas victims in the petition (no. 50 of 1998) before the Supreme Court seeking medical care.
The letter also suggests reopening of death claims of gas victims who died after 1997 as there have been more than 10,000 gas leak-related deaths from 1997 till date. About 17,000 rejected death claims should be reviewed. An empowered commission with representatives of victim-organisations should be set up without delay for the long term relief and rehabilitation —- medical, economic and environmental —- of the victims. These measures will go a long way into restoring the faith of the victims.