Sale of Shares allowed |
Compensation poor |
Extradition ignored |
Sale of Shares
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In a rerun of its infamous settlement order of February 14, 1989 by which all civil and criminal liabilities of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) were exchanged for US$470 million, the Supreme Court of India in February 14, 1994 allowed the sale of UCC's share holdings in its Indian subsidiary. The shares had been attached and their sale forbidden by the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of the Bhopal District Court on April 30, 1992 as a measure of ensuring the presence in court of Warren Anderson and other foreign accused.
A few months before the attachment of shares, the Supreme Court in its final order on October 3, 1991 had directed Union Carbide to finance a fully equipped 500 bed hospital for the survivors of Bhopal. Following up on the final order and in a calculated move to wriggle itself free from the criminal proceedings UCC formed The Bhopal Hospital Trust on February 20, 1992. The Trust was authorised by UCC to use part of the proceeds from the sale of the shares to the hospital in Bhopal. The sole trustee of this Trust is Sir Ian Percival an attorney in a law firm Sidley and Austin, one of the four US based firms retained by Union Carbide Corporation. In December 1993, Sir Percival who is also a former British Solicitor General, petitioned before the Supreme Court for permission to sell UCC's shares that lay attached. CJM Mr. Gulab Sharma had foreseen such trickery and had expressly forbidden the sale of shares on the pretext of hospital building.
In his order of April 30,1992 he sad "It is beyond comprehension why a company such as Union Carbide Corporation which has given 470 million dollars as compensation to the Bhopal gas victims can not give Rs. 50 crores for building a hospial from its own coffers". After about two secret meetings between Percival and the Indian Officials in January-February 1994, the Indian government stated in Court that it agreed with Sir Percivals' petition. As part of the deal, the Trust is to pay Rs. 60 crores (US$20 million) towards the hospital, Percival is to be the co-chairman of the committee that will oversee the setting up of the hospital, and he has been paid close to US$ 2 million for office expenses of the Trust! In a tone reminiscent of the Feb 14, 1989 order, the Supreme Court sanctified this "other settlement" on "humanitarian grounds"
In doing so, the Supreme Court has transgressed and in fact impeded the course of justice in the criminal case. In the entire proceedings on share selling, the Supreme Court neither informed nor invited input from the two solidarity organizations (BGPSSS and BGIA) who are legally involved in both the civil and the criminal cases.
Following the Supreme Courts' order, the sale of UCC's controlling stakes in the Union Carbide Indian Subsidary (UCIL) to the Williamson Magor group has been announced for a whopping Rs 290.23 crore (US$ l00 million). Revision petitions by survivors and solidarity organizations seeking injunction on the sale of shares lie pending before the Supreme Court.
end note: the proposed hospital has been built more than 11 kms away from the gas affected areas and is therefore, unlikely to be of any use to the ailing survivors.
According to the Dutch member of the International Medical Commission on Bhopal, Dr. Marinus Varweij, the priority in Bhopal should be to provide community based health services rather than build centralized hospital based systems.
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The final order on the Bhopal case upheld the settlement amount (US$ 470 million) given by Union Carbide and directed the Indian government to make good any shortfall and initiate distribution of compensation to the claimants by Feb, 1992. According to official figures, between Feb 3, 1992 and September 7, 1994, Rs. 280 crores (US$ 90 million) have been distributed against 870,009 personal injury claim and 12,088 death claims. At this rate it will take at least 13 years to adjudicate the claims for over six hundred thousand Bhopal claimants. Many would be dead by then.
On an average, claimants are being paid Rs. 27,000 (US$ 870) for personal injuries and Rs. 93,000 (US$ 3000) for exposure related deaths. The government deducts over Rs. 7000 (US$ 225) from the compensation of each individual against the interim cash relief paid earlier. Compensation for personal injuries falls far of the cost of medicines required for the next five years, let alone doctors fees, investigation costs and other necessities of a survivor's life.
Studies carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research have shown that over 20% of survivors suffered from anxiety neurosis, depression and adjustment reactions. An independent study of 1989 reports Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a much higher population. Yet there is no Compensation being paid for damages caused to the mental health of the claimants. Nor is any punitive damage being paid to the claimants.
In 56% of the death claims adjudicated so far, the claimants have been wrongfully denied compensation. The main causes of wrongful denial are - the judges' ignorance about the injuries caused by the disaster, their undue insistence on production of medical records and the claimants' inability to pay sufficient bribes.
Appeals against non and under payment of compensation are being discouraged through deliberate delays. This amounts to coercing claimants to accept pitiful sums, since they receive no money till their appeal has been judged. In a sample of 116 cases in which appeals were filed as long back as March 1993, judgement has been passed in only one case so far. The strategy works perfectly since survivors are in desperate need for money to pay back debts, buy medicines and make small income generating investments.
In comparison, the relatives of the persons who died in the Air India plane crash in June 1984 were paid Rs. 1,000,000 (one million) for each death almost immediately. On the other hand, each life in Bhopal is being priced at least twenty times less than the life of more privileged fellow citizens.
Warren Anderson's extradition
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Warren Anderson, who was the Chairman of UCC from 1980 to 1986, is the prime accused in the Bhopal case. Along with eight other officials of Union Carbide and three corporations (UCC, UCE and UCIL) Anderson has been charged with causing death by negligence, causing grievous hurt, poisoning of animals and other serious charges punishable by life-imprisonment and fines. Anderson and his fellow accused were arrested on December 7, 1984 and almost immediately released on bail. Since then he has refused to appear in court and 10 years after the genocide, trial in the case is yet to begin.
Back in 1986, while arguing for an Indian forum for the Bhopal case, Union Carbide had waxed eloquent about the judicial services in India. It now says that Indian courts have no jurisdiction over Anderson and other foreign accused. Before Judge Keenan in the Federal District Court of Southern New York, in 1986, Carbide had agreed to satisfy any judgement rendered by an Indian court - but it has gone against the final order of the Supreme Court which withdrew criminal immunity. Judge Keenan has yet to notice this blatant violation of his order. Interestingly Union Carbide officials never tire of proclaiming their innocence through PR campaigns. Twice they have changed the story of how the disaster happened, but it is never them who caused it. It makes one wonder why they do not establish their innocence in court - face the trial and get done with it!
Four summons were served (the last one through Interpol) on Anderson by the Bhopal District Court by the end of 1988. Since then he and the other foreign accused have been "proclaimed absconders" and the notification was published in Washington Post (January 1, 1992) but without any effect. The Central Bureau of Investigation, the autonomous national prosecution agency, has been directed to initiate extradition proceedings against Anderson and other foreign accused on six occasions in the last two years. CBI officials privately admit that they have almost failed to persuade the Ministry of Law to move on extradition. An extradition treaty does exist between the governments of USA and India and the government has announced moves for extradition in the parliment almost a year back. And yet nothing has actually been done. What is stopping the Indian government from moving on the extradition of Mr. Anderson?
Sale of Shares allowed | Compensation poor | Extradition ignored |
Sale of Shares