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'Bhopal tragedy due to worst of American, Indian cultures'

Last updated on: June 09, 2010 21:18 IST

A synergy of the 'very worst' of American and Indian cultures led to the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, a local court has held, adding that Union Carbide cynically used a third world country to escape from the strict safety standards imposed at home.

Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari, who convicted ex-Union Carbide India chairman Keshub Mahindra and six others and sentenced them to two years imprisonment nearly 26 years after world's worst industrial disaster left over 15,000 dead, also slammed the local authorities in Bhopal for callous indifference and lack of prompt response after the gas leak.

The seven convicts secured bail shortly after the verdict was delivered on June 7.

"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," Tiwari said in his judgment.

Tiwari, who has now been promoted to the rank of additional district judge, said, "Safety procedures were minimal and neither the American owners nor the local management seemed to regard them as necessary." He pointed out that when the tragedy struck, there was no disaster plan that could be set into action.

"Prompt actions by the local authorities could have saved many, if not most of the victims," Tiwari said, adding that the immediate response was marked by callous indifference.

The then CJM said that Union Carbide should have had the self-realisation to exercise the greatest care and take requisite precautions when it was dealing with such lethal chemicals. "It was the burden of the local government also to play its supervisory and regulatory role with the utmost sincerity," Tiwari said.

"However, both the UCIL and the government utterly failed in doing so," he said.

Tiwari said that eight major factors contributed to the disasters and added that these included casual but sustained erosion of good maintenance practices and declining quality of training to plant personnel.

 

The then CJM said he would like to suggest a separate Act like the Health And Safety At Work Etc Act of the United Kingdom, to make further provisions for securing the health, safety and welfare of persons at work. The proposed Act, Tiwari said, should also help in protecting others against risks to health or safety in connection with the activities of persons at work. He said the Act should also help in controlling the storage and use and preventing unlawful acquisition, possession and use of dangerous substances, and in controlling certain emissions into the atmosphere.

 

He said there should be further provision with respect to medical advisory services. Noting that the Bhopal gas disaster was the worst industrial tragedy in the world, the then CJM said in the case of such incidents, if the accused persons were extended on probation, justice will not be done to the people who have suffered a great deal.

 

"The end came horribly, but at least the nightmare was brief," Tiwari said, adding that for those who survived the MIC leak, the 'release' will not come so quickly. He said that thousands of seriously affected survivors still suffer from extensive lung damage.

 

"Women have peculiar gynecological problems and are still giving birth to deformed children," Tiwari added.

 

Regarding Warren Anderson, who was the chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation of United States at the time of the disaster, he said that Anderson was still absconding and therefore, "every part of this case (criminal file) is kept intact in safe custody till their appearance".

 

In the 95-page judgment, Tiwari also said that the evidence adduced by the prosecution was sufficient to prove beyond doubt that the accused persons were negligent. "The negligent conduct of all the accused persons, who at the relevant point of time could have confronted such an incident by proper care and caution. Knowing all the things, they omitted to do what they were entrusted to do," he said.

 

"MIC is a highly dangerous and a toxic poison, even then the storage of huge quantity in large tanks was undesirable. The capacity and actual production in the plant did not require such a huge quantity to be stored," he said.

 

The then CJM said that the public information system had failed and neither the state government nor the UCC or UCIL took any steps to appraise the local people about the dangers of MIC.

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