June 7, 2010
Terming today’s verdict and sentence against 7 officials of Union Carbide India Ltd., and the company an utter disappointment, Bhopal survivors today said they are resolved to challenge it in higher legal fora. “We feel outraged and betrayed. This is not justice. This is a travesty of justice,” said Hazra Bee of International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. “The paltry sentencing is a slap in the face of suffering Bhopal victims.” Survivors have condemned the Indian government’s “criminal negligence” in the prosecution of those accused of responsibility
for the world’s worst corporate massacre.
They said that as the Minister in charge of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Prime Minister must accept blame for the prosecuting agency’s incompetence and mishandling of the case.
UCIL’s 7 Indian officials were awarded a 2-year prison sentence and a paltry fine of Rs. 101,750 (about $2100) today, while Union Carbide India Ltd (now Eveready Industries India Ltd) was fined
Rs. 5,00,000 ($11000). All accused are out on bail of Rs. 25,000.
Today’s verdict was in the case against only the 9 Indian accused (8 individuals and UCIL), one of whom died in the course of the trial. The foreign accused – Union Carbide Corporation, Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Eastern – are absconding and the CBI has failed to take action to bring them to India to face trial.
The verdict was greeted with protests, slogan-shouting and die-ins by irate Bhopalis who defied prohibitory orders to vent their anger outside the court. “By handling those those guilty of the world’s worst industrial disaster so leniently, our courts and Government are telling dangerous industries and corporate CEOs that they stand to lose nothing even if they put entire populations and the environment at risk,” said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
The organizations said that in 18 years the CBI had not even been able to bring the principal accused; Union Carbide, USA and its former Chairman Warren Anderson, to face trial. Further, because of CBI’s inept handling, a third foreign accused – Union Carbide Eastern Inc, Hong Kong has managed to escape the criminal proceedings altogether.
“There is documentary evidence that Union Carbide, USA and Anderson knew that the Bhopal plant design was based on “untested technology”, they were in full control over operations and safety of the factory and it is
they who directed reckless cost – cutting. Justice cannot be done in Bhopal till these principal accused are brought to trial,” said Rashida Bee who has lost six people in her family due to the disaster.
According to the organizations, the CBI did nothing when Supreme Court’s Justice A M Ahmadi diluted the charges against the Indian accused in 1996. “Ahmadi converted the Bhopal disaster to the equivalent of a traffic accident. Without assessing the full evidence, he reduced the prison term for the crimes of Bhopal from 10 years to 2 years and the CBI made not a single effort to get this legally unsound order revised” said Syed M Irfan, president of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha.
Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, one of the three organizations assisting the prosecution, said that glaring omissions in the CBI’s presentation of evidence against the Indian accused amounted to derogation of the prosecution’s duty. “The CBI
failed to produce evidence regarding the role of Keshub Mahindra and other accused in deliberate acts undermining operational safety such as design modification, rewriting of operation manuals and decommissioning the crucial refrigeration unit.” he said.
He said that CBI’s “go soft” approach against corporate crime is also evident in its inaction against Dow Chemical, current owner of Union Carbide, USA. “In January 2005 the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bhopal issued notice to Dow Chemical, USA for producing its subsidiary Union
Carbide in his court. For the last four years the CBI has chosen not to act on this.” he said.
The organizations said that the Prime Minister must accept responsibility for the failure of the CBI in its role as the prosecuting agency. They called for the creation of a Special Prosecution Cell for effective and timely action on extradition of foreign accused and prosecution of Dow Chemical.
“The responsibility for this legal disaster rests squarely with the Prime Minister, who is the Minister in charge of CBI. CBI’s handling of this case was shoddy to say the least, and criminally negligent at worst,” said Sarangi.
The International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal (ICJB) is a coalition led by four survivor organizations along with environmental, social justice, progressive Indian, and human rights groups supporters around the world. ICJB works to hold the Indian Government and Dow Chemical
Corporation accountable for the ongoing chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. It was set up to address the grave injustices suffered by the half million Bhopal Gas Disaster survivors.
For more information, contact:
In North America, Shana Ortman: 1-415-746-0306
In India, Nityanand Jayaraman: +91 9444082401
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal Group
for Information and Action, +91 98261 67369
Safreen Khan, Children Against Dow Carbide, +91 9303831487