ndsharma's blog

Centre’s sinister move on BMHRC

Posted on: June 19, 2012

A subtle move is afoot to re-establish a link, though seemingly tenuous, of the erstwhile Union Carbide bosses with the scene of the American Corporation’s horrendous crime, Bhopal. The flying visit of home minister P Chidambaram and his colleagues on the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Bhopal Gas to Bhopal on June 5 suggested this more than what they pretended for public consumption. Chidambaram is the chairman of the GoM.

They ostensibly came to have an idea of the enormity of the disposal of toxic wastes dumped on the ground of the Union Carbide factory over the past three decades. The matter is pending in the Supreme Court and the government has promised its response on the basis of the report prepared by the GoM. However, Chidambaram and his colleagues, Salman Khurshid and V Narayansamy, did not even visit the spot nor did they hold any discussion with those affected by the waste which has been seeping and contaminating the underground water.

They did not interact with the gas disaster victims who were lined up at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC); Chidambaram just took memorandums from them with a scowl on his face and passed on. From BMHRC, Chidambaram went to a posh hotel in the city where he spoke before the media more about the presumed achievements of the UPA and less about the Bhopal gas disaster. They, however, spent considerable time at BMHRC which holds the key to the Centre’s sinister design.

The hospital was built by the Union Carbide under a directive of the Supreme Court to provide specialised treatment to those suffering from the after-effects of MiC gas inhaled during the night of December 2-3, 1984. The construction and management of the hospital have been mired in unsavoury controversies. Suffice it to say that the Union Carbide had constituted a trust, Bhopal Hospital Trust (BHT), to manage the affairs of the hospital. Sir Ian Percival, former Solicitor General of England, was appointed the sole trustee of BHT. From 1984 till his appointment to BHT in 1992, Sir Percival worked as an attorney in the US-based Sidley and Austin, a law firm retained by Union Carbide Corporation.

Illegal drug trials

By a trust deed in April 1998, the sole trustee retired. His son, Robert Eldon Percival, and another were appointed by Union Carbide as trustees. By another deed, Sir Ian Percival was reappointed as trustee but he expired the same day. Some government officials were included as the trustees later the same year and Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) was registered as a charitable trust. Former Chief Justice of India A M Ahmadi, who had converted the charges against Union Carbide officials to minor offences and allowed sale of Union Carbide’s confiscated shares, was appointed chairman of the BMHT.

There have been several unhealthy developments in the past decade, the most scandalous being the revelation that the hospital was being used for unauthorised drug trials on gas victims. Following an intervention by the Supreme Court, the trust stands disbanded. The management of the hospital was first entrusted to the department of atomic energy but later transferred to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It has since been rechristened Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC).

There seems to be a move to make BMHRC autonomous with its own governing body. Robert George Percival, son of the late Sir Ian Percival, is learnt to be lobbying hard in Delhi for some such arrangement and his own inclusion in the new set-up. He is being strongly backed by erstwhile Union Carbide bosses, now part of Dow Chemical, and some other forces in the US. Robert George Percival’s interest goes beyond the monetary benefits from the BMHRC which has a corpus of approximately Rs 700 crore.

Combat gas

Dr Heeresh Chandra, one of the country’s foremost forensic experts, was of the opinion that the US multinational had experimented on the Indians some deadly chemical for use in a future biological warfare. Dr Chandra was involved in the investigations of post-mortem blood and tank residues. Phosgene and cyanide, the two most deadly chemicals, were also found in the blood of the victims, though these two chemicals had no business to be stored in the plant which was supposed to manufacture pesticides. (Phosgene was “effectively used as a combat gas during the First World War”. It is a severe irritant to the entire respiratory tract).

Dr Heeresh Chandra’s theory is supported by the findings of Swedish medical practitioner Ingrid Eckerman who was a member of the now-dissolved International Medical Commission on Bhopal (IMCB) and had been visiting Bhopal frequently in connection with her research. She says in her book, “Bhopal Saga: Causes and Consequences of the World’s Largest Industrial Disaster”: “according to reports seized from the Research and Development centre of the plant at Bhopal as well as documents traced from other offices of the firm, the (Union Carbide) Corporation had conducted a number of experiments on animals and plants, and was aware of the effects of MiC. It is likely that they had information not only on short-term effects, but also on medium and long-term effects”.

She says in her book: “a Research and Development unit was set up in Bhopal in 1976. The centre, the biggest in Asia, had five insect-rearing laboratories and a two-hectare experimental farm for testing chemical agents. Here, new molecules were synthesised and tested. It appeared that the UCIL (Union Carbide India Limited) was conducting (from 1975) field studies using new chemical agents without getting the projects cleared by the top-level committee where all collaborative research efforts should be screened from a security angle”.

She then refers to the reports about the presence of chemical warfare experts at Bhopal studying MiC’s effects (after the disaster). “For example, it is known that from the Pentagon, a medical doctor was sent to collect military intelligence regarding the effects of the leaked gases. From Sweden (her own country), two doctors were sent to make a report for the National Defence Research Institute”.

There has always been a suspicion that the Americans had been getting the data regarding the developing conditions of the MiC leak survivors so long as the Percivals and Ahmadi were associated with the hospital. The link seemed to have snapped up after the blow up of the drug trial scam. Reappointment of Robert Percival may be of help.


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June 2012
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