The Tragedy Con­tin­ues

Tehelka - - MANIPUR -

IN YET an­other blow to the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy sur­vivors, an Amer­i­can court has ruled that it was Union Car­bide In­dia Ltd ( UCIL) and not its par­ent com­pany, Union Car­bide Cor­po­ra­tion ( UCC), which was re­spon­si­ble for the gen­er­a­tion and dis­posal of the haz­ardous waste that has con­tam­i­nated the city’s soil and ground­wa­ter.

While de­liv­er­ing his judg­ment on 26 June, Judge John F Keenan found “no ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that UCIL man­u­fac­tured pes­ti­cides on UCC’s be­half, en­tered into con­tracts or other busi­ness deal­ings on UCC’s be­half, or oth­er­wise acted in UCC’s name”. Ac­cord­ing to him, UCC and UCIL were sep­a­rate en­ti­ties at “arm’s length” from each other and UCC ex­erted no control over UCIL.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, it was the same court that in May 1986 sent the case for com­pen­sa­tion to the In­dian courts. At that time, the In­dian gov­ern­ment, on be­half of the vic­tims, had filed a suit for $3.3 bil­lion as com­pen­sa­tion ar­gu­ing that since the dis­as­ter was a con­se­quence of de­ci­sions taken by the par­ent cor­po­ra­tion, an Amer­i­can court was the ap­pro­pri­ate fo­rum.

Aware of the mas­sive com­pen­sa­tion awarded in cases of cor­po­rate malfea­sance by US courts, UCC ar­gued that the case be sent to In­dia. The US court presided over by Judge Keenan ruled in favour of UCC and sent the case to In­dia. “The court is firmly con­vinced that the In­dian le­gal sys­tem is in a far bet­ter po­si­tion than the Amer­i­can courts to de­ter­mine the cause of the tragic event and thereby fix li­a­bil­ity,” he had said.

In the con­text of the judg­ment de­liv­ered on 26 June, it would be in­ter­est­ing to see how it matches up with the pro­nounce­ments of the “far bet­ter” placed In­dian ju­di­ciary on the spe­cific is­sue of li­a­bil­ity of UCC vis-à-vis that of its In­dian sub­sidiary.

Fol­low­ing Judge Keenan’s 1986 or­der, the case for com­pen­sa­tion was pre­sented be­fore the Bhopal District Court where Chief Ju­di­cial Mag­is­trate MW Deo di­rected that “UCC will de­posit in this court 350 crore for pay­ment of sub­stan­tial in­terim com­pen­sa­tion and wel­fare mea­sures for the gas vic­tims”. Sig­nif­i­cantly, he did not make any pro­nounce­ment against UCIL.

UCC ap­pealed against this or­der be­fore the Mad­hya Pradesh High Court where Jus­tice SK Seth up­held Judge Deo’s di­rec­tions

In a trav­esty of jus­tice, UCC is ab­solved of its li­a­bil­i­ties for en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion in Bhopal

to UCC but brought down the com­pen­sa­tion amount to 250 crore. Judge Seth jus­ti­fied his di­rec­tion on the grounds that, “UCC owned more than half the stock of UCIL as well as con­trolled its board of di­rec­tors and as such was a par­ent and hold­ing com­pany of UCIL un­der In­dian law. Thus, it was in fact the de­fen­dant UCC that de­signed, con­structed, owned, op­er­ated, man­aged and con­trolled the Bhopal plant through its In­dian sub­sidiary.”

In re­sponse to UCC’s con­tention that it had no control over the run­ning of the Bhopal plant, Judge Seth ob­served, “Dur­ing 1978-84, cer­tain vi­tal de­ci­sions re­gard­ing the fate of the Bhopal plant, in­clud­ing those re­lat­ing to its sale, lease or dis­man­tling and ship­ment to a for­eign coun­try, were taken at dif­fer­ent stages by the UCC man­age­ment, some­times even without ref­er­ence to the In­dian com­pany, in­di­cat­ing com­plete control of the de­fen­dant UCC over the af­fairs of the In­dian com­pany.”

UCC ap­pealed against Jus­tice Seth’s or­der in the Supreme Court and it even­tu­ally led to a col­lu­sive set­tle­ment in Fe­bru­ary 1989 for $470 mil­lion. The court di­rected that the bulk of the amount — $425 mil­lion — was to come from UCC and the rest from its In­dian sub­sidiary. In Oc­to­ber 1991, the or­der was mod­i­fied and crim­i­nal charges against UCC and its of­fi­cials and sub­sidiaries were re­in­stated. When UCC con­tin­ued to ab­scond from In­dian courts, in April 1992, Chief Ju­di­cial Mag­is­trate Gu­lab Sharma di­rected that “mov­able and im­mov­able prop­er­ties of UCC lo­cated in In­dia be at­tached”.

In June 2010, Chief Ju­di­cial Mag­is­trate Mo­han P Ti­wari, in his judg­ment in the crim­i­nal case against UCIL and its of­fi­cials, re­marked, “The tragedy was caused by the syn­ergy of the very worst of Amer­i­can and In­dian cul­tures. An Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tion cyn­i­cally used a third world coun­try to escape from the in­creas­ingly strict safety stan­dards im­posed at home.”

Re­port­edly, Union Law Min­is­ter Sal­man Khur­shid has re­fused to com­ment on Judge Keenan’s ver­dict ab­solv­ing UCC of its li­a­bil­i­ties. The least he could do is point out that be­tween the 1986 and 2012 judg­ments, only one could be right.

It was the same US court that in May 1986 sent the case for com­pen­sa­tion to

the In­dian courts

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.