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Dow can't evade responsibility for Bhopal Gas tragedy: Audrey Gaughran

IBNLive.com
Jul 25, 2013 at 04:02pm IST

A Bhopal district court has issued summons to Dow Chemicals in the ongoing criminal case on the world's worst industrial disaster that, in December 1984, claimed thousands of lives and wounded many more thousands. Will the victims ever get justice? joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the issue.

Q. Will the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy ever get justice? Asked by: Deepak

Dow can't evade responsibility for Bhopal Gas tragedy: Audrey Gaughran

Bhopal gas tragedy: a definitive closure in the offing?

A. We hope so; people have fought for justice for decades and there has been some progress. It is clear survivors and activists are willing to go the distance to see justice done, however, delayed. But the delays are serious and many have died waiting to see justice for Bhopal.

Q. Bhopal district court has issued summons to Dow Chemicals. How significant is it? Asked by: Sonia

A. It is quite significant as it confirms the view of the court that Dow has responsibility for Union Carbide, which is Dow owns, 100%. While Dow has always tried to distance itself from UCC, the fact is Dow bought UCC in 2001 and it must have known what a terrible legacy UCC had left at Bhopal. Dow cannot evade responsibility for this.

Q. What should the Indian government do to make sure that there is justice for the Bhopal disaster? Both towards victims and Dow? Asked by: Robert

A. It is quite significant as it confirms the view of the court that Dow has responsibility for Union Carbide, which is Dow owns, 100%. While Dow has always tried to distance itself from UCC, the fact is Dow bought UCC in 2001 and it must have known what a terrible legacy UCC had left at Bhopal. Dow cannot evade responsibility for this.

Q. It's bin a long pending case. My mom is from Bhopal and they were present during the tragedy. All these years, I have been listening that many people belonging to other parts of India other than Bhopal got paid for the tragedy while people who were really present during the incident (likewise my mother's family) didn't get a single penny. This is not about money but this shows how people are taking advantage of such situations. Justice should be round the corner, I suppose! Asked by: Sandeep Rao

A. Although UCC paid some compensation to the government of India, there were very serious problems with the distribution of the money to the victims of the Bhopal leak. Some people could not register. There were numerous reports of corruption. This is one of the most serious issues the government needs to address - the fact that the compensation it agreed was not sufficient, that affected people were not consulted and that - ultimately - many affected people did not get compensation. There are efforts to rectify this situation but it has been painfully slow.

Q. What will be the implications for the then Government of India officials/ leaders who helped the culprits escape from country, if any at all? Asked by: Abhinav

A. The out-of-court settlement that the government agreed with UCC included sweeping terms. The settlement, which was ratified by India's Supreme Court in February 1989, ended all other proceedings (civil and criminal) that were then pending in the lower courts, including the criminal proceedings. The decision to quash the criminal proceedings caused such public outrage that India's Supreme Court came under pressure to review it. In October 1991, the Supreme Court upheld the 1989 settlement but revoked the decision to quash criminal prosecutions. This opened the way for renewed criminal proceedings. Unfortunately this kind of settlement between governments and companies in cases where there has been serious harm to people's human rights and the environment happens in many countries and Amnesty International is campaigning against such settlements because of the long-term injustice that can result. We saw a similar problem when toxic waste was dumped in Ivory Coast in Africa in 2006.

Q. Given that this is the largest recorded industrial disaster in the history of the world, and given the quantum of compensation the US has asked from BP for the oil spill there, isn't there a clear double standard on part of the US when it comes to treating disasters in their homeland and someplace else? Asked by: Sarthak

A. There is a very serious problem with how such disasters are dealt with and very different standards apply. This is also something Amnesty is working on - highlighting stark differences between the way victims of pollution and toxic waste dumping can be treated - depending on where the problems occur. But we have to look at how and why BP had to act fast, put $20 billion into a compensation fund in the US and pay clean up costs - and that comes down to the government acting fast and demanding action from BP. Strong government action that is focused on the rights of the people affected will always be needed in cases where companies are involved. This is why it is vital to see much stronger action by the Government of India to demand justice from the corporate actors for Bhopal and to deliver justice itself.

Q. Has any one been punished for the negligence of UCCL causing the untold hardships? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. Seven people - all Indian nationals - who formerly worked for the Indian company Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), were found guilty in 2010 by the Bhopal Court of causing death by negligence. However, the US-based UCC and its former Chairman, Warren Anderson, who were charged in 1987 in relation to Bhopal both refused to face trial. While the Indian employees have now been tried and convicted, the foreign accused have been able to evade justice simply by remaining abroad.

Q. The then government in centre had acted under USA pressure to let Warren Anderson escape. Was it a Diplomatically right move, resulting in a wrong for getting due compensations to the victim? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. In Bhopal and cases like Bhopal (and, sadly, there are other cases where thousands of people have seen their lives damaged by companies), political considerations should not trump justice. It is something we see too often - senior corporate executives have been able to evade the courts in cases where they have a case to answer for causing harm to people and the environment - and there are questionable interventions by their home government and/or out-of-court settlements that allow company executives to evade justice.

Q. Dow chemicals participation in London Olympics went through in spite of Protest. The developed world has no sympathy to sufferings of poor in underdeveloped nations? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. Amnesty International was deeply disappointed by the decision of the London Olympic Committee and members of Amnesty campaigned on this issue. The London Assembly, an elected body that investigates issues of importance in the Capital, also criticised the relationship with Dow. Many people were unhappy with the involvement of Dow and many people across the world support the campaign for justice for Bhopal. Amnesty has also criticised Dow's involvement in the Run for Water event in 2010. Sponsoring an event that highlighted water scarcity while ignoring ongoing problems with access to clean water in Bhopal was at best hypocrisy, at worst, a flagrant attempt by Dow to try to white-wash its image.

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