On June 26, a U.S. Federal Court ruled that the U.S.-based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and its then chief Warren Anderson were not liable for damages caused by the toxic wastes dumped in Bhopal. Neither could the two be asked to clean up, the court ruled.
It is close to 28 years since December 2-3,1984, when a mixture of methyl isocyanate (MIC) and other poisonous gases spewed out from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant in Bhopal resulting in exposure of more than half a million people to toxic gas and harmful chemicals. More than 35,000 people living in and around the plant site have since died from gas-related diseases, while nearly 3 lakh continue to suffer from chronic illnesses. Most of these were workers at the plant, living in bastis around the plant site.
The response of the Indian state to this whole tragedy has been criminally callous. All the assurances and promises made in these 28 years by successive governments at the Centre and the state have been blatantly violated. Those who survived that deadly night are still fighting for their demands for adequate medical relief and rehabilitation. Those who lost their loved ones and the only earning members of their families are still demanding compensation that was promised. They were made to run from pillar to post in the immediate months following their loss and till date, a majority of the widows are yet to be paid the pension due to them. The state is yet to organize for the removal of the toxic waste from the site and for the supply of clean water to the residents of Bhopal.
That the Indian state defends the interests of the Indian and foreign imperialist bourgeoisie at the expense of its people needs no further proof than the fact that it did not hold the company in India – Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) nor its parent company in the US, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) responsible for this genocide. On the contrary, it ensured that the then UCC chief Warren Anderson escaped from the country. The UCC chief had visited Bhopal just after the event, to ostensibly, “assess the extent of damages”; he was “arrested” just to demonstrate to the people of Bhopal and all Indians who were incensed with the tragedy and demanding that UCC and UCIL should be held responsible it, that it was doing something. But he was granted bail within hours and enabled to leave the country, according to the orders of the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and his Home Minister, Narasimha Rao.
The victims of the Bhopal tragedy and countless others in India and abroad, who have been actively supporting them, have not let up on their struggle for compensation, for the demand to punish UCC and UCIL. From time to time, the Indian government has been forced to address these concerns through announcements and intentions; but the absence of any action on these further proves its anti-people criminal nature.
In 2002, the government made an announcement that it had decided to initiate extradition proceedings against former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson in connection with the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. In 2010, a Group of Ministers, set up “to advise the government on the tragedy” claimed, “We have dealt with all issues -- compensation, legal and pursuing the extradition of Warren Anderson, the legal options available to the government of India and, most importantly, the remediation issues and health-related matters”!
Not only has Anderson’s extradition and trial remained an empty promise, the recent court judgment in the US has ensured that UCC can wash its hands off completely. DOW chemicals, which had taken over UCC in 2001, obtained the Indian government’s assurance in 2006 that it would not be held liable for the mass murder in Bhopal. UCC had earlier outright rejected that it has any responsibility for cleaning up the toxic waste. Investigations have revealed that UCIL, in full agreement with its parent company, neglected various safety rules, quality control and training methods, and that several accidents causing death and serious injuries had been reported earlier from the same plant, but these had been blatantly ignored.
In response to the demands of the victims’ families and affected survivors for compensation from Union Carbide in the aftermath of the tragedy, the Indian government had claimed that it would act on behalf of all of them and use its authority to sue the company for damages. However, Union Carbide got away with paying a mere 470 million dollars (Rs.750 crore) to the Indian government in 1989 in a settlement reached after a protracted legal battle. This settlement has been denounced by many organizations as a sell-out by the Indian government, of the interests of the victims and their families. According to this settlement, the victims were paid Rs. 25,000 in case of illness and Rs.1 lakh to the next of kin of those dead. As has been reported, in many cases the promised compensation has not yet reached the people it was intended for.
With the continued and unrelenting demand of the survivors for a just compensation, the Indian government had filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court in December 2010, seeking enhanced compensation calculated on the basis of higher number of victims than the number considered earlier. However, this was a useless exercise to assuage public anger and cover up its crimes; UCC got away by filing an affidavit saying that compensation was given more than four years after the accident, and that this period provided the government sufficient time to assess the damages.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar condemns the collaboration of the central and state governments with the mass murderers in Bhopal. People cannot have any illusions that this state, which is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, will defend their interests and punish the criminals responsible for this genocide. Only a workers and peasants state can and will do this.