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Crimes of Bhopal


									Crimes of Bhopal

Holding Corporations Accountable

By Satinath Sarangi

This piece originally appeared in Samar 16: Fall/Winter, 2003

 On the night of December 2-3, 1984 the chemical disaster at the
Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal led to deadly poison
clouds surrounding a half million people as they slept. The disaster
killed more than 8,000 in its immediate wake. The death toll today
is well over 20,000 and rising with more than thirty survivors
dying every. Today, well over 120,000 survivors are in desperate
need of medical attention for chronic exposure induced diseases,
including breathlessness, persistent cough, early age cataracts, loss
of appetite, menstrual irregularities, recurrent fever, back and body
aches, loss of sensation in limbs, fatigue, weakness, anxiety and
depression. An overwhelming majority of the exposed people
earned their living through hard labor. Thousands of families are
on the brink of starvation because the breadwinners are dead or too
sick to work.

 Over 20,000 people in the surrounding area rely on drinking water
contaminated with carcinogens and other disease causing
chemicals that have seeped in to the ground water from the plant.
Union Carbide's own report on the contamination indicates that
over one-third of the factory premise is hazardously contaminated.
A recent report of the Fact Finding mission on Bhopal shows that
the poisons in the ground water are present in high concentrations
in the breast milk of women in the surrounding communities.

 Union Carbide simply abandoned the factory. It has yet to pay for
containing the toxic groundwater, rehabilitating the degraded land,
or making arrangements for an alternate supply of drinking water.
Corporate Crimes

There is substantial evidence that Union Carbide, with complete
control over the pesticide factory in Bhopal, was deliberately
negligent in the factory's location, design, operation and
maintenance. Two years before the disaster, the corporation's
safety experts warned of a "potential for the release of toxic
materials" in a confidential business memo. Warren Anderson, the
company's chairman and other senior executives ignored the
warning. He nonetheless went ahead and reduced plant personnel,
shut down vital safety systems, but kept people in the
neighborhood in the dark about the deadly chemicals stored, used,
and produced in the factory. Less than three months prior to the
disaster, an internal Union Carbide memo warned of a "runaway
reaction that could cause a catastrophic failure of the storage tanks
holding the poisonous [methyl isocyanate] gas" at Union Carbide's
Institute, West Virginia plant. This warning was not shared with
the management let alone operators of the Bhopal facility.
Subramaniam W. Morehouse in his book The Bhopal Tragedy
describes what happened after the disaster as the following:

 Three days after the disaster, Anderson, on a PR visit to Bhopal,
was arrested along with other officials and soon released on bail.
He was then escorted to New Delhi on a special government
aircraft and allowed to leave the country. He never came back.
Neither did any representative from Union Carbide Corporation.

 In January 1987 the Indian government's counsels for the
prosecution -- the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) -- had
charged Warren Anderson and the corporation and nine other
Union Carbide subsidiaries and officials with manslaughter,
grievous assault and other serious offences punishable by over 10
years of imprisonment and fines. In 1992, Union Carbide
Corporation and its former chairman, Warren Anderson, were
proclaimed "absconders" by a judgment of the Bhopal District
Court for their failure to appear to face criminal charges.

 Fifteen years later, India's prosecutors would rethink their
position. On May 24, 2002 in a small dusty courtroom in Bhopal,
the CBI presented an innocuous looking four-page application
before the Chief Judicial Magistrate. They would dilute the charges
they themselves had pressed against Union Carbide and its former
chairman Warren Anderson in the criminal case on the disaster in
Bhopal. They would rather have the two U.S.-based accused be
charged with negligence that is punishable by up to two years in
prison or fines. The CBI, without doubt following instructions
from the highest authorities in the government, were seeking to
convert the worst industrial massacre in history to a crime
equivalent to a car accident.

 This retreat from justice for the victims of Bhopal may be the
most recent, but is not the first. Indian government agencies have
actively colluded with the corporations and underplay the number
of the dead, grossly under-assess the extent of injuries, and
suppress medical information potentially disadvantageous. For
years after the disaster, the Department of Chemicals and
Petrochemicals banned the publication of medical research on
Bhopal. The ban was lifted in 1996 but the Indian Council of
Medical Research is yet to publish its decade-long research on
Bhopal victims.

 Through the Bhopal Act of March 1985, the Indian government
arrogated to itself the sole power to represent the victims and sued
the Corporation in the US for upwards of three billion dollars. Five
years later it settled with Union Carbide for a paltry sum of 470
million dollars -- which cost the company 43 cents per share.

Victims of Bhopal have seen different political parties running the
government in the last ten years and, yet, none of these
governments has taken any steps to extradite the corporate culprits
for the corporate crimes of Bhopal. According to a secret internal
memo, the Indian government's deliberate inaction stems from
concerns that it would "jeopardize the investment climate".

 The present government has surpassed all other previous ones in
appeasing multinational corporations. Ironically, it is dominated by
a party that flaunts its nationalist pretensions. The prosecution's
recent move in diluting the criminal charges will essentially make
the prime accused in the case un-extraditable from the US.

 In February 2001, Union Carbide in a "vanishing act" merged into
the Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Michigan, USA. Dow,
now the largest chemical corporation in the world, has inherited
the medical, social, environmental and criminal liabilities arising
out of the Bhopal disaster. Defying established legal procedures
and judicial principles in USA and India, Dow's position on
Bhopal is that it does not hold itself liable for a factory they never
operated in a place they never have been. Continuing with Union
Carbide's tradition of liability evasion, Dow refuses to provide for
long term health care, income support to the destitute and the
disabled, and cleaning up the ongoing contamination.

Global Campaign for Justice

 The legal-judicial story of Bhopal illustrates the worldwide
inadequacy of codes and structures to hold corporations and their
senior officials accountable and of the utter lack of international
foray for redress of corporate crimes. Corporate crime has become
more institutionalized, legitimate and intense with the advent of

 Bhopal underlines the need and the possibility of involvement of
the victims in defining and confronting corporate crime. In this
respect the following guidelines for re-defining corporate crime
have been proposed by survivor organizations in Bhopal:
1.     Deaths, injuries and long-term impacts to health and
   environment caused by hazardous industrial systems must be
   seen as corporate murder, assault and terror;
2.     Failure to disclose hazards and hazard mitigation plans,
   misinformation regarding chemicals stored, produced, spilled,
   leaked and emitted, suppression of information critical to
   individual and public health and safety, following double
   standards of safety in different countries, choosing unsafe
   technologies when safer alternatives are available and other
   glaring instances of premeditated policy of putting profits before
   people must be treated as criminal offence;
3.     In all cases of corporate crime, the burden of proof must be
   on the offending agency;
4.     Penalties for corporate crimes: criminal fines on the
   corporation and imprisonment of representatives; and
5.     In all cases of corporate crime, individual executives must be
   made criminally accountable, made to pay fines and undergo
   deterrent punishment.

 Under this approach, holding corporations accountable for their
crimes will involve the solidarity of victimized communities and
their supporters worldwide. In these times of globalization, the
specter of a recurrence of Bhopal looms over large parts of the
world, particularly in countries of the South where corporations are
relocating hazardous industries. Moreover, prior to Bhopal, Union
Carbide was known as the author of the worst industrial disaster in
USA. Described as the Hawk's Nest scandal, according to the Wall
Street Journal Europe (3/1/85), 'in a Depression-era scandal in
West Virginia, 476 workers died of the lung disease silicosis while
building a diversion tunnel for a Carbide-sponsored hydroelectric
project. Hundreds of other workers, 80% of whom were black,
suffered and died later. A critical account of the massacre reports
'it is apparent that the illnesses and deaths that resulted were not
only known to them, but expected by them. For as the purchasing
agent for the contractor candidly stated "I knew we were going to
kill these niggers, but I didn't know it was going to be this soon."
Senator Holt of West Virginia reported that the company further
stated openly that "if we kill off those, there were plenty of other
men to be had."

 In the U.S. and around the world, a community's "right-to-know"
is under fierce attack or non-existent. In Bhopal, corporate secrecy
has prolonged the suffering of the victims. Before the disaster there
was only one minor scientific paper published on the health
consequences of methyl isocyanate among a few exposed firemen.
Today, most of the medical information on the chemical remains
with the Union Carbide Corporation. They continue to withhold its
unpublished data as a "trade secret". This suppression of
information is impeding the medical care of the survivors. Lack of
treatment protocols, in the absence of information, is leading to
indiscriminate prescription of potentially harmful drugs that
compound exposure induced injuries. Analysis of prescriptions
issued at a clinic run by the "Charitable Trust" set up by Union
Carbide shows that 26.3% of the drugs prescribed were harmful,
48.5% of drugs were useless according to standard text book of
pharmacology and 7.6% of drugs prescribed were both harmful
and useless.

 Bhopal also illustrates the global reach of corporate crime. The
merger of Union Carbide with the Dow Chemical Company unites
the victims of Bhopal with the victims of dioxin-related illness,
death, and deformity worldwide that can be attributed to Dow.
Dow is the creator of organochlorine aliphatic and aromatic
polymers, feedstocks, and agricultural chemicals. In the U.S., the
relentless efforts of local activists such as Diane Hebert have
shown that Midland, where Dow has its global headquarters, is one
of the most dioxin-contaminated human settlements in the country.
In Vietnam, over 19 million gallons of the dioxin-containing
defoliant Agent Orange were dumped by the United States over 4.5
million acres of the country-side between 1962 and 1971. Dow
was one of the principal manufacturers of Agent Orange, to which
millions of Vietnamese people were exposed during the war.

 The disaster in Bhopal is not an isolated event. There are slow and
silent Bhopals occurring in a routine manner in almost every part
of the world. There is abundant scientific evidence to establish that
corporations are responsible for indigenous human populations
disappearing, marine mammals declining, species loss
accelerating, clean water becoming scarcer, forests dwindling,
ocean fisheries collapsing, productive top soil diminishing,
contamination by pesticides and industrial chemicals steadily
growing, and chronic diseases rising.

 The gas-exposed people of Bhopal have not remained passive
victims of Union Carbide's crimes. From immediately after the
disaster, they have organized to demand justice and have run legal
and direct action campaigns to bring the corporate criminals to
justice. Attempts to obtain justice through the Indian and American
legal systems have been to no avail so far. Three organizations of
survivors, whose members are overwhelmingly women, continue
to hold weekly meetings and demonstrations as part of the longest
battle of its kind. They have received support from communities
victimized by corporations around the world as well as from trade
unions, environmental and human rights organizations and others.
The Sambhavna Trust Clinic based in Bhopal is the only
organization supporting the struggle of the survivors.

 Sambhavna is a Sanskrit/Hindi word that means "possibility."
Read as "sama" and "bhavna" it can also mean "similar feelings" or
"compassion." The Sambhavna Trust Clinic offers free medical
care to the chronically ill survivors through modern medicine,
Ayurveda and Yoga. In the last six years, this clinic has given
effective and sustained care to more than 11,000 people and
provided support to about the same number through health
initiatives in 10 severely affected communities. Sambhavna was
awarded the MEAD 2001 Award by the Margaret Mead 2001
Centennial Committee for exemplifying the American
anthropologist's statement: "Never doubt that a small group of
thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world."

 More than ever, today, ensuring justice in Bhopal is vital to
protect the lives and health of the people considered expendable by
the institutions of globalization. Through global linkages among
victims of corporate crime, this large group of thoughtful,
committed citizens must work together to change the world.

For more information on the Bhopal disaster and Sambhavna
please visit

Satinath Sarangi is a founding member of the Bhopal Group for Information
and Action, which supports survivors' campaigns through research and legal
action, and the managing trustee of the Sambhavna Trust, which provides free
medical care in Bhopal.

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